GSA issues modified phone service pacts

After weathering repeated delays the General Services Administration's Federal Telecommunications Service this month issued a solicitation for the government's next-generation long-distance telecommunications network and a draft solicitation for the first of a series of metropolitan-area phone service contracts.

GSA personnel and members of congressional oversight committees believe the FTS 2001 request for proposals and the draft solicitation for the Metropolitan Area Architecture (MAA) contracts will take advantage of the new deregulated telecommunications market by allowing long-distance and local-service providers to compete in each other's traditional markets. Both programs will run four years followed by four optional one-year periods.

GSA plans to award multiple FTS 2001 contracts - worth a total of $5 billion to $8 billion - by March 1998. The first MAA contracts serving the New York City Chicago and San Francisco areas are expected to be awarded by the end of the year. GSA has not estimated the potential value of the New York contract because of last-minute changes in the scope of the program.

The FTS 2001 RFP was scheduled for release last fall but was postponed when Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and other members of Congress expressed concerns about whether it would allow the highest degree of competition. At a hearing held by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee two days before the release of the solicitations FTS commissioner Bob Woods said the agency tailored the solicitations to better serve the needs of government users as well as the interests of the telecommunications industry.

"We're quite confident that the enhancements [to the solicitation] serve broad interests " Woods told the committee. "You're always going to get some [vendors] saying `I only agree with some of it.' I don't think any one vendor got the whole loaf."

One of the more controversial aspects of the program will allow vendors that win long-distance contracts to also offer local service to agencies if they first register with GSA and then wait a year after the MAA contracts are awarded. Vendors that win MAA contracts also will be allowed to offer long-distance service with the same stipulations. Some vendors notably Bell Atlantic argue this setup will allow the government to award business to vendors without performing a thorough evaluation of the services.

"There is nothing unevaluated about it " Woods said. "If we are buying service for 15 bucks a line and you come in with a proposal of $18 I can tell you how far that will go."

Telecom vendors said they were still reviewing the solicitations and declined to offer specific comments on it.

Frank Lally associate deputy assistant secretary for telecommunications at the Department of Veterans Affairs and chairman of the Interagency Management Council said the council endorsed the RFP and believes it is an improvement over previous versions. He said the IMC would form a "transition group" this month that will help assign agencies to each winning vendor's network based on agency budgets and telecommunications needs.

Because agencies are likely to remain with their current service providers AT&T Corp. - which holds about 80 percent of the current FTS 2000 traffic - stands best positioned to win most of the business under FTS 2001.

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