Vendors gripe about D.C. telecom contract

Despite industry skepticism officials at the General Services Administration last week said they believe they will see "robust competition" for its forthcoming contract to acquire next-generation telecommunications services for federal locations in the metropolitan Washington D.C. area.

The agency this month issued a request for comments on its strategy for the Washington Interagency Telecommunications Systems 2001 (WITS 2001) contract to replace the existing WITS network provided by Bell Atlantic. Between fiscal years 1990 and 1996 agencies spent more than $54 million on WITS which expires in January 1999 according to Federal Sources Inc. a marketing consultant firm in McLean Va.

Long-distance telecommunications vendors have so far refused to state categorically whether they intend to bid. Officials representing the three major long-distance companies said this month they are still reviewing the RFC. Most sources expressed doubts they would compete.

"We want to take a look at it " a Sprint spokesman said. "But at first glance it doesn't look like a piece of business that would jump to the top of the list for us."

Another source with a major long-distance vendor questioned the timing of the procurement and suggested that GSA was simply "putting out feelers" to gauge the amount of competition the program might attract.Bob Woods commissioner for GSA's Federal Telecommunications Service predicted the solicitation would attract broad competition and warned that vendors should take the solicitation seriously. "We believe competition is going to be there and we are going for it " he said. "This is not a drill. The [current] contract runs out in 1999."

Margaret Binns assistant commissioner for regional services at FTS said "more than one or two companies have expressed interest" in the contract. She said all those companies have an installed telecom infrastructure in the Washington area and are providing services.

Binns said GSA issued the RFC to ensure that agencies did not lose sight of the WITS 2001 competition in light of the publicity surrounding other FTS procurements for long-distance service and Metropolitan Area Architecture (MAA) contracts that will provide local service in other cities. She also wanted to clarify the differences between the WITS 2001 contract and the MAA acquisitions.

According to the RFC the WITS 2001 acquisition will follow the same approach as acquisitions conducted under the FTS MAA program which will acquire local telecom service in high-traffic urban areas nationwide. Like the MAA vendors the WITS 2001 contractor will compete for federal long-distance business a year after GSA awards its FTS 2001 long-distance contracts.

But the document noted that WITS 2001 differs in that the winning vendor will be required to provide Synchronous Optical Network (Sonet) technology vendors may use government-owned Lucent Technologies Inc. 5ESS switches and WITS 2001 will be a best-value award as opposed to one based on the lowest cost technically acceptable proposal.

The WITS 2001 acquisition strategy paper released last week said the contract will give agencies "as much control over their telecommunications environment as they feel is necessary."

The contract will attempt to attract more users than the current WITS which has fallen far short of the $500 million worth of business anticipated when the contract was awarded in 1989. "WITS currently serves only about a third of the potential government clients in the National Capital Region there are opportunities for significantly more aggregation of government requirements " the paper reported.

Woods hopes to wire District of Columbia schools into the WITS 2001 network and has been talking with representatives from the D.C. government to enlist their support in that endeavor. "We've got a lot to offer them and we'd like to have them involved in the early stages of the program " he said.

GSA expects to award the WITS 2001 in July 1998 and complete the transition from the existing WITS network by January 1999v!

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