Scrutinizing MCI

MCI should not be drummed out of the federal market. Perhaps it is in the federal government's best interest to suspend MCI, given the parent company's alleged accounting fraud and subsequent financial troubles. But it is too early to make that call.

Clearly, though, the pressure on the General Services Administration is building. Earlier this month, an official in GSA's inspector general's office asked agency officials to take a closer look at MCI. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has done the same.

GSA has countered that MCI, a contractor on the FTS 2001 telecommunications program, continues to provide good service — not only meeting but beating contract requirements. Why throw out a contractor that's performing as required?, GSA officials argue.

It's not a unique situation in the federal market. The federal division of a large corporation is often a world unto itself, having a strong management team and meeting its revenue goals while other divisions fall short.

Still, the perceived disconnect between federal and corporate offices can, and should, only go so far. A critical question in this case is whether the government was a victim, in any way, of the parent company's accounting practices. Collins rightly asserts that GSA should investigate that possibility.

A more difficult call is whether MCI's federal customers are at risk of losing vital services because of the company's financial problems. Eventually, the company could find itself unable to invest in the technology and staff needed to maintain a high level of service.

GSA has an obligation to weigh these concerns, and this obligation should not be derailed by Washington politics. Clearly, other telecommunications vendors have a vested interest in seeing MCI suspended, and they are likely to make their case against MCI through whatever channels are available to them.

Agency officials would do MCI's federal customers a disservice if they let politics force their hand. Ultimately, it is in the government's best interests to make a decision based on sound analysis, not in reaction to political pressures.

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