DOD amends DISN pact; Hill members call for delay

Two days before accepting bids on the transmission portion of the next-generation, multibillion-dollar, long-haul Defense Department contract, the Defense Information Systems Agency issued an amendment opening up the contract to all other federal agencies.

DISA described the change as "incidental," but at least one bidder called it a "serious" change in the scope of the contract.

The amendment was issued last Wednesday but was received by bidders on Thursday, just two working days before the April 1 due date. It allows other agencies to use the Defense Information Systems Network (DISN) transmission contract to acquire secure and protected network services.

All users may have to wait longer than expected to use the DISN contract. In a separate action last week, Reps. Ronald Dellums (D-Calif.) and Cardiss Collins (D-Ill.) sent a letter to Secretary of Defense William Perry asking him to delay source selection for all DISN contracts until there is a review of the Pentagon's explanation of concerns the two have with the procurement strategy.

These concerns, the letter said, include the "segmented series of contracting actions" for DISN that AT&T has protested.

This congressional call for a delay contrasts sharply with a letter sent by Rep. William Clinger (R-Pa.), chairman of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, to Emmett Paige Jr., assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, in February. In that letter, Clinger told Paige that he believed it was "imperative" that DISN move forward without delay.

Army Col. Marlin Forbes, the DISN program manager, last week called the amendment "incidental.... We made the change to accommodate Economy Act requirements." The Economy Act is a decades-old federal law that allows one agency to meet its needs through another agency's contract to avoid incurring the costs of running another procurement.

Forbes said DISA made the change before receipt of bids "so that other agencies that wanted to ride a protected network could do so." He said the change represented neither a change in the dollar value of the DISN transmission contract nor in the specifics of the procurement documents.

Peter Smingler, DISN contracting officer for the Defense Information Technology Contracting Office, said, "The addition of this language will not impact upon any offeror. It does not change the contract minimum or maximum dollars." He also said the proposed change had been approved by DISA's in-house counsel.

Smingler said agencies that may want to take advantage of the secure network environment offered by DISN include the FBI, the Treasury Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Diana Gowen, director of DOD sales and marketing at MCI Government Markets, said the change would serve definite user requirements at those agencies as well as others, such as Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms or the Customs Service.

"I think [DISA has] gained an insight that other government agencies need this kind of protection [offered by DISN] against hackers. These agencies don't have this kind of service available to them today. As far as I'm concerned, the more the merrier," she said. In her view, the amendment, made to the contract scope section of the DISN procurement documents, "does not really change the scope of the contract," she said.

Bill Brougham, director of business development for Sprint (partnered with Electronic Data Systems Corp. on the DISN transmission bid), said the addition of civilian agencies to the contract "came a little late in the game," but he agreed with Gowen that the amendment does not radically change the scope of the contract.

Sprint, along with AT&T, holds the civilian agency FTS 2000 contract, and Brougham does not see the DISN amendment resulting in a decline in the traffic on that network, or its successor, Post-FTS 2000.

Harry Carr, the former AT&T Defense networks vice president who still handles the DISN contract from his new AT&T local-access network job, said the amendment "makes this a whole different procurement. If they're serious about this, it will delay the bid." Carr added, "If this is a serious amendment, it will also cause a significant delay in award of the contract."

AT&T has filed one protest against DISN, arguing that DISA's refusal to allow it to submit a unified bid for the DISN transmission, bandwidth manager and video services is unfair.

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