Buzz of the Week

GSA assists the assistors

Some of you may think that this spot is reserved for stories about the General Services Administration — and in many ways, it has been.

This is the 14th issue of Federal Computer Week this year, and it is the sixth time that FCW’s Buzz of the Week has focused on GSA.

We’re not exactly sure whether that says more about us — or more about the state of GSA. Of course, determining what is news — and buzz — is more art than science. But let us try to justify ourselves.

During the past week, FCW has been chided — from GSA insiders and outside observers — for a news story the magazine ran in the May 14 issue, headlined “GSA ponders fate of assisted services.” The story essentially said GSA is assessing what the agency should do with its assisted acquisition services. The story said specifically that GSA was debating “whether to pull the plug” on assisted services.

That’s not true, GSA officials said last week in no uncertain terms. Assisted acquisition services remain plugged. Jim Williams, commissioner for GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, went so far as to send a note informing staff members they were still employed and that no jobs were threatened.

But GSA officials also acknowledge that assisted acquisition services needs help, and the agency is searching for ways to do a better job of assisting. “We’re going to do this,” said Ed O’Hare, FAS’ assistant commissioner for the Office of Strategic Business Planning and Process Improvement.

If numbers are any indication, GSA has yet to find a perfect business model. GSA expects to lose $46 million on the agency’s assisted services businesses, based on $3.7 billion in revenue. Some predict that the losses could reach $70 million.

In many ways, the whole situation is paradoxical. Most agencies simply don’t have enough contracting officials. Because of greater congressional oversight, agencies are increasingly wary of using contractors for those kinds of services.
GSA is the logical place for agencies to seek that acquisition knowledge, yet making that case has been a tough sell in recent years.

GSA’s past problems are partly to blame. In some DOD agencies, there are employees who still think they are not allowed to use GSA’s services. And then there is the issue of fees, which are always too high if a program
isn’t successful.

Now GSA is working through those financial issues and trying to make the case that it is ready to help.

The Buzz contenders
#2: Networx, the sequel
Well, it’s not a sequel, exactly, but everybody has placed bets on when the next round of Networx contracts will be awarded. Yes, it was just about two months ago that Networx was awarded, but that was only the first of the two Networx awards.

Networx Universal, as that contract was called, was awarded in March and covered many of the traditional telecommunications services ranging from virtual private networks and voice over IP to frame-relay and Asynchronous Transfer Mode services.

Networx Enterprise covers more specialized and localized services, such as emerging IP and wireless services. When will it be awarded? Nobody knows.
The other big question is will Sprint-Netxel, which got shut out of Universal, get a piece of Enterprise?

#3: Elasticity, felicity, net-centricity
A sure sign that net-centricity isn’t working yet is that soldiers and Marines conducting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan must sometimes resort to using personal cell phones provided by family members and chat rooms as makeshift information-sharing tools.

And so we learn from a new report from the Defense Science Board that net-centricity — having the information you need whenever you need it — is hitting tactical bumps as the Defense Department struggles to realize its strategic vision of 21st-century warfare.

One solution to the problems the report describes would be for DOD to push its policy of using commercial information technology but not to customize it to DOD specifications. Net-centricity should be all about accelerating the project of interconnecting DOD’s classified and unclassified networks and protecting the information on the Global Information Grid with the best IP encryption devices that money can buy.

That’s the one-minute version of the Defense Science Board’s advice to DOD.

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