Networx deadlines extended, could delay award date

Vendors seek clarifications with more than 1,000 questions about the RFP

The General Services Administration has twice extended the deadlines for vendors to submit bids on the Networx telecommunications contract, which could delay the award of the contracts next year.

The most recent change, extending the deadlines to Oct. 5 for Networx Universal and Oct. 7 for Networx Enterprise, came in an amendment to the request for proposals that was expected to be issued Aug. 19.

The original deadlines were Aug. 3 for Networx Universal and Aug. 5 for Networx Enterprise. Networx Universal will provide a broad range of telecom and network services nationally. Networx Enterprise will offer a smaller selection of more localized services.

The two-month extension has raised doubts about whether GSA can award the Networx contracts in April 2006, the target date that the agency established in its 2004 Networx plan. Fred Schobert, Networx program manager at GSA, said extensions on the front end of the proposal evaluation phase can lead to delays in awards. Without extensions, agencies have less time to evaluate the bids.

GSA Administrator Stephen Perry, speaking at GSA's Network Services Conference in Chicago last week, spoke of awarding Networx next summer. It was unclear whether he was subtly signaling a shift in the timeline.

Vendors have responded overwhelmingly to the solicitations, submitting more than 1,000 clarifying questions and comments since the May release of the final RFP. John Johnson, assistant commissioner of service development and delivery at GSA, said the response suggests that vendors are trying to thoroughly respond to the solicitation.

GSA has tried, however, to make the proposal process as easy as possible for vendors, Schobert said. Vendors can certify they comply with about 72 percent of the contract's requirements by marking items on a checklist rather than writing more detailed documents to complete the process.

John Okay, a consultant at Topside Consulting, said the extension is good.

"It gives everybody some certainty and lets them work on a more realistic schedule," he said. However, "I would expect it's going to add at least a month to the award date."

Networx is significantly different from FTS 2001, the contract it will ultimately replace. Taken collectively, its two manifestations require vendors to provide many more services than FTS 2001. Vendors must offer electronic ordering systems that pass verification testing, and the contract emphasizes on security features.

The contract will be performance-based, Schobert said, requiring companies to meet service-level agreements. Those that don't meet the standards set forth in the service-level agreements can lose revenues.

Vendors have to adjust to changes in the schedule, but they also need to get the actual bid submission behind them to move ahead, said Henry Beebe, who leads the Networx capture team at AT&T Government Solutions.

"When the bids go in, the work really begins," he said. Companies should expect continued interaction with GSA as the agency evaluates the bids, and at least one "best and final offer" opportunity to sweeten the deal before GSA makes its final decisions, he said.

To a point, vendors will adjust to whatever changes GSA makes, Beebe said. Networx, with an estimated value upward of $20 billion over 10 years, is "the biggest deal out there," he said.

Agencies should prepare to move to Networx

Despite uncertainties about when the Networx contracts will be awarded, agencies should prepare to move their services from FTS 2001 or other contracts to Networx, said Maria Filios, who is managing the transition through the General Services Administration's Program Management Office. Agencies should designate someone to serve as a transition manager, she said.

That person should:

  • Compile and validate an inventory of FTS 2001 services that will need to move to Networx.
  • Determine the agency's goals and define its requirements in making the move.

— Michael Hardy

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