FTS revises Networx plan

Federal officials have taken some pressure off telecommunications companies interested in bidding on the upcoming Networx contract, but only to a small degree. Officials from the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service said they listened to industry concerns in revising the plan for Networx.

Even so, officials realize that there is no compromise that will please everyone, said John Johnson, FTS' assistant commissioner for service development and delivery.

"I don't expect everyone here to be in total accord with the strategy," he said last week, speaking to an audience of industry representatives at an event hosted by the Industry Advisory Council.

Under the new strategy, Networx still will be divided into two contracts. Networx Universal will provide national services. The other contract, previously called Networx Select, will now be called Networx Enterprise and will provide more localized services.

One major change is that contractors bidding on the Universal contract will no longer be required to provide ubiquity. However, they still must be able to provide continuity, meaning that the provider can reach all government centers.

The change does not mean that companies do not have to provide the full range of services, said Karl Krumbholz, FTS' deputy assistant commissioner for service development. Networx Universal specifies 39 services that bidders must provide and 10 optional services. Networx Enterprise includes nine required services and 42 optional ones.

"We expect a lot if you're going to bid Universal," added Fred Schobert, director of program management and technology at FTS. "The agencies require a lot."

In another change, FTS officials plan to award both contracts at the same time, in April 2006. Previously, they had planned to award Select nine months after Universal, an idea that some providers objected to because they feared that the Universal contractors would fill the market before the Select companies even got to the table.

"That was an attempt to give everyone a fair shot at the opportunity at the starting gate," said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc. "It's going to be more difficult for GSA to pull it off from just a pure procurement administrative process standpoint, because you've got two giant [requests for proposals] that you're trying to work simultaneously."

Networx Enterprise is structured so that companies offering new technologies that haven't yet become widespread can find a place on the contract vehicle, Schobert said.

"It became clear to us that some of the services we were [examining] were newly emerging services that we could not reasonably expect all of you to offer," he said.

Telecom consultants said that the revised plan, though still a challenge for many companies to meet, is more realistic than FTS' earlier Networx proposals.

"It's clear that FTS is doing [its] homework," Suss said.

"Their concentration on full-service vendors will undoubtedly disappoint some people, but that's what the agency wants," added Phil Kiviat, a partner with Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik and Associates Inc.

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