GSA names 10 primes for $50B EIS contract

GSA awarded contracts for the vehicle that will be the foundation for next-generation telecom and network services for the next decade and a half at federal agencies.

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A mix of 10 telecommunications companies and systems integrators are winners under the government's $50 billion next-generation telecommunications contract.

AT&T, BT Federal, Centurylink, Core Technologies, Granite Telecommunications, Harris Corp., Level 3 Communications, Manhattan Telecommunications (MetTel), MicroTech and Verizon will all be vendors for the 15-year Enterprise Infrastructure Services contract.

The awards were posted to FedBizOpps on Aug. 1. That notice did not provide details beyond the list of 10 firms.

Enterprise Infrastructure Services is the foundational contract for the General Services Administration's overarching NS2020 Strategy framework and acquisition strategy for future federal information technology and telecommunications needs.

"EIS will help agencies establish a solid foundation to modernize the government's IT infrastructure, implement advanced cybersecurity solutions, and improve service to the public," said Mary Davie, acting deputy commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service. "Today's awards will make it much easier and more affordable for the government to make needed improvements to its telecom and IT systems, today and in the future."

The complex EIS contract vehicle has been a long time in the making. GSA issued its request for information on EIS in April 2014 and the final Request for Proposals last October.

"EIS is important to GSA because it provides continuity to their current agency customers with the telecommunications services that are essential to the day-to-day government operations," said John Okay, executive consultant at Topside Consulting Group, in an email to FCW.

"It allows GSA to retain its place as the federal government's premier source for telecommunications services. It's a huge deal in terms of federal agency acquisition with an estimated total lifetime contract value of some $50 billion," he said.

On the industry side, Okay said the contact is important because the acquisition strategy it embodies will reduce the number of mandatory services and the geographic coverage required by Networx, opening the door to more competitors. Networx has four providers.

GSA officials said throughout the process that they're looking for transformational communications services for federal agencies from a mix of traditional and non-traditional telecommunications services providers.

Earlier this July at an industry conference, Bill Zielinski, deputy assistant commissioner for category management in the GSA's Federal Acquisition Service said the contract will help agencies deal with the "digitally converged world" that has evolved since Networx was conceived.

"We really feel like now in this next generation of contract that we're putting together, we really have partnered with industry, with the agencies, to start to say how do we really recognize that the needs that we have in this digitally converged world go far beyond those backbone network services and that we're going to provide even more and greater access to technologies, not just today's technologies but providing on-ramps to new and emerging technologies," he said.

In the last year or so, GSA has been working with federal agencies on their intricate transition plans that are critical for their move from the current Networx contract vehicle to EIS by 2020. The last transition to Networx form FTS-2001 took 36 months to complete, significantly blunting its effectiveness.

An award was tentatively projected for late spring, but slipped as initial protests cropped up. The first protest came in August 2016 by Compuline International; GAO dismissed that protest a few weeks later. This past May, the contract cleared another major hurdle when Windstream withdrew a protest it filed only a month before. The company had told the Government Accountability Office it had been unfairly eliminated from the telecommunications contract's competitive range.

GSA had to contend with complicated processes, rounds and rounds of intricate vendor questions about the proposed contract, even a blizzard in the winter of 2015 that some vendors tried to use as an excuse for delaying filings in the contract development process.

Successful bidders are confident they can make the long hard work of developing and preparing for the new contract worthwhile for agencies.

"This is different from Networx," said Diana Gowen, federal practice leader at MetTel, in an interview with FCW. "It will give federal agencies the right tool for digital transformation," she said. GSA's approach to EIS, she said, was effective. However, working with geographic service requirements called Core Based Statistical Areas was one of the more complicated issues in the contract she said.

MetTel, said Ed Fox, MetTel's vice president of network services, can address CBSAs that it might not have been awarded contracts to through its intricate relationships with local carriers in all of those areas.

Even though GSA's EIS team worked very hard in the contract's development to avoid post-award protests, observers say, given the sheer magnitude of the vehicle and bidders' long, expensive development of responses, protests might be inevitable if a bidder was unsuccessful or a winner is unhappy.

This article was updated Aug. 2 to include comment from GSA officials.

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