Current rules hamper states' FTS 2000 use

A representative from Maryland's House of Delegates last month contacted General Services Administration chief David Barram about the state's potential use of the FTS 2000 contract but was later told that GSA lacks the authority to offer long-distance services to state and local governments.

Delegate Mark Shriver wrote to Barram last month congratulating the acting administrator on the success of last year's FTS 2000 recompetition. According to GSA, the recompetition produced decreased long-distance rates as low as 1.5 cents a minute for some calls.

Shriver called the FTS 2000 contract "one of the most successful in the history of the federal government" and expressed interest in putting Maryland state traffic onto the network. "I would like to know whether the Maryland state government might participate in this program," Shriver wrote. "It is my hope that such savings might be extended to include Maryland and perhaps county and municipal governments as well."

Bob Woods, commissioner of GSA's Federal Telecommunications Service (FTS), responded on Barram's behalf with a letter that said the contract does not explicitly allow use of the network by nonfederal government agencies. "We lack appropriate legislative authority to offer such service at this time," Woods wrote.

John Okay, deputy commissioner at FTS, said program leaders within his office would like to offer FTS 2000 services to state and local governments but were advised by their attorneys not to do so. He added that "one or two other states" have informally told GSA in the past month that they are also interested in the program.

Okay said FTS attorneys believe that a change of legislation will be required to allow state and local governments to use the network. "I don't think there is a specific prohibition to offering the service to others," he said. "But there's not a clear authorization to do it either."

He added that he knew of no initiative within GSA or elsewhere to promote the change that would allow other users onto the network. "This is all very recent," he said.

In his letter to Shriver, Woods said the Post-FTS 2000 acquisition strategy does specifically allow the use of federal telecommunications contracts by state, local and tribal governments. Those contracts are slated to kick in when the current contracts with AT&T and Sprint expire in December 1998.

Shriver could not be reached for comment on Woods' letter.

John Doherty, AT&T's vice president of FTS 2000 and civilian markets, said his company would welcome state and local governments on its portion of the FTS 2000 network. "As federal dollars get sent down to the states, maybe this a way to take advantage of that," Doherty said.

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