Agriculture issues RFI to fix telecom problems

In response to heavy criticism of how it has managed telecommunications the Agriculture Department recently released a request for information to identify those vendors that can provide telecommunications management services.

The request is partly in response to a General Accounting Office audit released in 1995 which found that the USDA was paying leases on outmoded equipment such as rotary phones and outdated modems that could not be located and for telephone services for an office that had already closed [FCW Sept. 18 1995].

"Our overall goal is to improve telecommunication management specifically in the areas of inventory and billing reconciliation " said Ronald Lester a telecommunications specialist. "Rather than go out with a full and open competition we're trying to determine a number of vendors currently on government contracts that can provide these services."

Most USDA agencies rarely use these services and those that are purchasing them do so in a very fragmented fashion Lester said. "We want a coordinated effort " he said. "Agencies are not aware that there are contracts that [provide these services] or how to access them and what the ordering procedures are. We are simplifying the whole process for them."

Currently AT&T regional Bell operating companies and others offer service and equipment to about 11 000 USDA sites nationwide.The USDA has received about 20 vendor responses to the RFI. After June 1 when all the responses are due the USDA will distribute to agencies nationwide a list of contracts they can use to hire vendors that can provide these services. Services include collecting information relating to telecommunications equipment and circuits that are located at agency facilities.

The USDA also wants vendors to compare customer service records from the regional Bell operating companies with the actual physical inventory that is done on-site. The USDA now lacks tools that can do this.

Warren Suss a telecommunications analyst said "Telecommunications costs have dropped dramatically and computers are good at tracking costs so it doesn't pay to invest a lot of additional resources in billing oversight when it's unlikely to trap a lot of errors.

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