Congressman wants to hold agency accountable on its telecom contracts
The General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service must get its "act together" on managing governmentwide telecommunications contracts, or Congress could start looking to privatize the agency's services in that area, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said.
As chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee, Davis is holding a series of hearings on delays in the implementation on FTS' long-distance and local contracts. Davis also is meeting with officials from FTS, especially Commissioner Sandra Bates, to determine how to fix the management problems that led to these delays.
"FTS to some extent hasn't had the oversight necessary," Davis said in an interview Thursday. "We have to set a standard for them and hold them accountable."
While other agencies can be held accountable through the appropriations process, Congress cannot take that road with FTS' contracting offices, which receive no appropriated funding. They recoup all costs through fees on their contracts.
But this commercial-style operation may make it easier for Congress to hold GSA accountable for the performance of its telecommunications contracts since "there are pieces you can privatize, you can break off," Davis said.
At the first hearing, held April 26, the General Accounting Office testified that despite overall cost savings because of lower pricing on the new FTS 2001 long-distance contract, the government has paid $74 million extra because of delays in the transition. Davis expects to discover additional expenses next week at the subcommittee's hearing on the local FTS Metropolitan Area Acquisition contracts.
That hearing will focus on discovering why so few agencies have moved to the lower pricing and improved services available on the MAA contracts, Davis said. GSA has awarded contracts in 20 cities, including Albuquerque, N.M., Chicago and Los Angeles, for $4.1 billion so far.
In the competitive New York City market, where FTS awarded AT&T an MAA contract in May 1999, only 9.5 percent of federal customers have switched to the new contract, according to Davis' staff director, Melissa Wojciak. GSA awarded its first crossover contract to Verizon Communications in March, allowing that company to compete with AT&T in the New York area.
Cities with less competition have fared no better, and while there are expected bumps in the road, such as the Verizon strike last year, delays seem to be an across-the-board problem, Davis said.
"The MAA program, just like the overall long-distance program, is behind schedule, and you can't do that. It's costing the government money." The situation has been described as each city having "its own soap opera, each with its own bad plot line," he said.
Before the hearing next week, Davis and his staff will be meeting with GSA officials, including Bates and new GSA Administrator Stephen Perry, to discuss options and accountability.
"We're not trying to lynch anybody, we're just trying to get this back on the road," Davis said.
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