Post-FTS 2000 to be delayed

The $20 billion Post-FTS 2000 telecommunications services solicitation will not be released next week as planned, and program officials are scrambling to quiet the fears of Congress that the procurement will not take advantage of the changing telecom marketplace.

Members of committees on both sides of Capitol Hill appeared determined to delay the release of the solicitation, despite some concessions from the General Services Administration, which now is willing to give local phone companies a chance to play a role in the program.

Members of GSA's Federal Telecommunications Services said they intend to meet with members and staff of appropriations and authorizing committees throughout the month to reach an agreement on a Post-FTS 2000 strategy. Program officials will attempt to rebut recommendations and draft legislation from all the oversight and appropriations committees aimed at forcing the agency to delay its request for proposals for as much as two years.

The common thread in all the congressional criticism of the Post-FTS 2000 program has been a concern that GSA's strategy will not take into account the changes in the marketplace in the wake of this year's telecom reform legislation.

"We want a flexible strategy, and the strategy that GSA has now is not that flexible," said a staff member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management and the District of Columbia. The staff member said he would support a delay in the RFP along the lines of one directed in the draft Senate appropriations bill, which called for a solicitation no sooner than May 1997. But he added that he did not believe, as GSA officials do, that such a delay would require an extension of the current contract.

"I don't think that GSA needs a two-year lead time for this procurement," he said. "I'm not so sure that [program officials] are not making the issue of moving to a new contract more complicated than it really is."

To assuage congressional fears that the program will not take advantage of changes in the telecom market, FTS commissioner Bob Woods said he will propose an "open season" three to four years into the contract to allow "outside players to get into the game."

The open season not only would offer an opportunity for regional Bell operating companies to bid on Post-FTS 2000 business, he said, but also would allow vendors to propose new offerings, such as bundled local and long-distance services.

Woods said the open-season approach would prove less costly than the one recommended by members of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, which asked that the contract's duration be reduced to three to five years. While committee staff members said shorter contracts would allow GSA to change the course of its strategy sooner if necessary, Woods believes the cost of awarding contracts more frequently and the burdensome transitions of service would outweigh the benefits of that approach.

Bill Barloon, director of government affairs at Sprint, said his company might endorse the idea of an open season, provided it did not kick in until about five years after the contracts were awarded.

He said the initial vendors ought to have a chance to recoup their investments in the program before additional vendors come in.

Barloon added that Sprint officials will not object if the RFP is delayed.

An AT&T spokeswoman said company officials "eagerly anticipated release of the RFP" but would not comment on GSA's proposed strategy or the recommendations from Congress.

A Bell Atlantic spokeswoman said personnel at the company are "hoping this delay means they are crafting the RFP so it is more in line with the spirit of telecommunications reform legislation approved by Congress earlier this year."

Woods has said he would be willing to let agencies use schedule contracts for services that are not priced according to the volume of use.

But a committee staff member said she believed the differences between the House, the Senate and GSA surrounding the Post-FTS 2000 strategy would be ironed out by the end of the month.

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