Networx RFPs under review

Vendors and industry analysts hail billing and reporting improvements

So far, so good in the final version of the Networx contract solicitations. Vendors are beginning to analyze the massive documents, and many company officials say they are finding much to like about the changes General Services Administration officials have made.

The requests for proposals were issued earlier this month, but company officials are taking time to pore over the thousands of pages.

Compared to the draft RFPs the agency issued in late 2004, winning vendors will be responsible for tracking fewer billing elements and submitting fewer reports on their internal support systems.

Company officials say those changes make the contract requirements closer to what companies already provide for commercial customers, meaning they will have to meet fewer government-specific requirements.

GSA will award the two Networx contracts — Universal for widespread services and Enterprise for more localized offerings — in May 2006 to a still-unspecified number of vendors.

Officials expect that the two contracts combined would be worth about $20 billion, said John Johnson, assistant commissioner for service development and delivery at GSA's Federal Technology Service.

However, the contract ceilings are set considerably higher in case demand outpaces the estimates by FTS analysts, he said. The ceiling for Networx Enterprise is $20.1 billion, and Universal tops out at $48.1 billion.

"The expected value for both is about $20 billion," Johnson said. "But if there were greater use, we wouldn't run into a problem where we would have to stop using them."

FTS officials had planned to release the RFPs in early April but were delayed by a month when comments about the contracts flooded into their offices.

Officials incorporated many of the suggestions they received, but the final RFPs reflect the agency's commitment to the underlying strategy they settled on long ago, said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting.

"There have been some specific changes, but they've stuck to the strategy," he said. "There weren't a lot of surprises in the final RFP. It looked pretty much like the draft."

The Networx debate has raged on several fronts. Some advocates said the contract should go further toward establishing a governmentwide telecommunications infrastructure to facilitate interoperability, while others wanted a contract that provided good prices for agencies without limiting choices.

Some small companies wanted a method to "graduate" from Networx Enterprise to the broader Universal. Many company officials wanted larger revenue guarantees.

Leaders of some smaller firms had raised doubts that they would bid on the contract as it existed in draft form. However, Jim Payne, senior vice president of Qwest Communications International's Government Services Division, said the final version addresses many of the concerns he had.

"It's clear that they've made significant improvements to the billing elements as well as the reporting," Payne said.

The final RFPs also spell out the criteria that officials will use in selecting the winning vendors, with a heavy emphasis on price, Suss said. That information had been missing from the draft RFPs, leading some industry officials to complain that they could not begin working on proposals until they knew how government officials would judge them.

Now that the final document is available, Suss predicted that almost every company that can make a case for being included will participate.

"Just about every company around the beltway and around the nation that's involved in networks and telecommunications is going to be involved in one way or another," he said. "The only question is: How many are going to be involved as prime [contractors] and how many are going to be involved as team members? It's going to attract a lot of folks."

Networx Universal proposals are due Aug. 3, and Networx Enterprise proposals are due Aug. 5, Johnson said. Officials plan to award all the contracts under both solicitations in May 2006, although they will stagger the award dates to make the workload more manageable, he said.

Networx facts

Networx Universal:

  • Provides 41 required and 11 optional services on a national basis.
  • $48.1 billion ceiling.
  • $525 million minimum revenue guarantee to be divided equally among all awardees.
  • 10-year maximum term (four years, followed by three two-year options).

    Networx Enterprise:

  • Provides 14 required and 40 optional services to localized areas.

  • $20.1 billion ceiling.
  • $50 million minimum revenue guarantee to be divided equally among all awardees.
  • 10-year maximum term (four years, followed by three two-year options).
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