WITS follow-on put on hold

The General Services Administration has put a hold on a follow-on procurement for the Washington Interagency Telecommunications System (WITS) program, the local phone service contract for federal agencies in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

Wayne Brady, director of telecommunications planning in GSA's Federal Telecommunications Service, said his office wants to carefully evaluate the merger of GSA's local and long-distance telcom programs before nailing an acquisition strategy for the follow-on, tentatively called WITS 99. The current WITS program will expire in September 1998.

Before the merger, GSA local-service officials had been evaluating alternatives for the WITS follow-on but stopped when the merger cast their mission in a different light.

"I think we are making a wise decision not to spend the taxpayers' money and do this in a vacuum," Brady said of the decision to delay work on WITS 99.

Warren Suss, president of consulting firm Warren H. Suss Associates, believes the decision stems from GSA's frequently stated objective to bring down the cost of local service and increase the agency's share of the federal local telecom market.

"They want to figure out what procurement strategy would be the most effective in driving down the price of local service," he said. "They have extremely ambitious objectives. Right now, they only handle one-third of the local service in government, and they want to expand that."

A GSA source said one option being considered is merging the WITS contract under the Post-FTS 2000 umbrella for long-distance services after 1998.

"There could be a scenario that says we don't recompete WITS, and it would all be done through the Post-FTS 2000 procurement," he said. "It's something we've been discussing internally."

Members of the Interagency Management Council, federal telecom officials representing agencies throughout government, have apparently been pushing for such a "one-stop shopping" approach to voice and data service.

"You lose something in the data world if you don't provide end-to-end service," the source said.

But Brady insisted the question has not been resolved yet. "We're open to any scenario that holds the best deal for the government and is flexible," he said.

A source close to Bell Atlantic, holder of the current WITS contract, said company executives plan to meet with GSA officials to obtain information on the future of the program.


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