11 to split telecom pact worth billions

The Army has assembled the building blocks of a networked government in a $1 billion communications infrastructure proj-ect that permits 11 major companies to vie for individual orders from any Defense Department or civilian agency anywhere in the world.

The Digital Switched Systems Modernization Program (DSSMP) managed by the Army's Communications-Electronics Command's System Management Center (SMC) will allow federal agencies to quickly and easily acquire communications gear and services ranging from small-scale local-area networks to powerful digital switches needed to manage Army long-distance networks in Europe or Asia.

The Army will tap the DSSMP contractors (see list Page 6) for such basic infrastructure requirements as cable trenching services to sophisticated Asynchronous Transfer Mode switches "and everything in between " according to Eric Swenson the SMC DSSP program manager. "This is not the granddaddy of network contracts.... This is the wunderkind of telecommunications contracts for the next generation of government users " Swenson said.

Thomas Michelli the SMC director said DSSMP also will cover wireless products including LAN gear and cellular and personal communications systems equipment.

Michelli said his agency took a deliberate contracting approach with DSSP that should allow agencies easy access to the latest technology advances by asking vendors to supply general categories of equipment and services rather than issuing laundry lists of contract line items that could not keep pace with advances in technology.

"We put out some generic requirements and then awarded multiple contracts to qualified vendors " Michelli said. The vendors will then vie for future work on a job-by-job basis he said with agencies able to choose the best in technology on a competitive basis.

For Army customers DSSMP will serve as a follow-on to two previous contracts the Continental United States Telephone Modernization Program and the Major Command Telephone Modernization Program with the latter covering the upgrade of long-haul networks in Germany South Korea and Japan. Michelli said based on "lessons learned" from those contracts "we realized we need to be more commercial in our acquisition strategies.... We also realized that some acquisitions were costing vendors too much money." SMC saved the Army and vendors time and money by running a streamlined procurement with just three months from the issuance of proposals to award of the contract he added.

Michelli estimated that it cost vendors "several hundred thousand dollars to bid on our contract...compared to millions [of dollars] for [the Voice Video and Data contract run by the Navy]." SMC wanted to ensure inclusion of small businesses in DSSMP and earmarked for eight small contractors the de-installation and removal part of the work. SMC intends to concentrate its efforts with DSSMP on Army users Michelli said. "We will take care of the Army first " he said and then quickly added SMC "hoped vendors would be aggressive in pursuit of customers outside the Army."

Warren Suss a Pennsylvania-based telecommunications analyst said the Army SMC program office wants to market DSSMP to other federal agencies to ensure its own viability. "Their future is based on their ability to provide services across the government. They pay for themselves with the markup." Industry sources said most program offices charge a fee to users but SMC has a relatively low fee of about 1 percent.

Winning bidders interviewed by FCW indicated they intend to take Michelli up on that challenge. Barbara Connor president of Bell Atlantic Federal Systems said "We see DSSMP] as a tremendous opportunity. We will aggressively market the vehicle and position it with other agencies [besides the Army]. We believe they will see it as an opportunity and will take advantage of it." Connor praised SMC's contracting approach saying "They deserve a lot of kudos. This was a wonderful contract to respond to."

Mark Swidler sales vice president for DOD at Lucent Technologies Inc. said DSSMP's "innovative contract approach will allow us to refresh technologies and will ensure competition for solutions priced at the best value to the government. We are delighted it is a governmentwide contract [and intend] to make it available to many of our customers."

Swidler sees real potential for the wireless products and services on DSSMP in offices and bases as well as in the field. The Army has developed a battlefield communications architecture based on commercial standards and equipment such as ATM and cellular called the Warrior Information Network and Swidler said he believed that DSSMP "could be used for WIN."

That fits in with SMC's strategy in making DSSMP as flexible as possible according to Michelli who said "we wanted the scope as wide as possible even though our focus was to field switches for the Army."

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