OMB to feds: Heed costs of quitting telecom pacts

The Office of Management and Budget last month issued an anticipated policy requiring agencies that withdraw from local telecommunications services contracts offered by the General Services Administration to first consider how the move would affect other agencies that remain with GSA.

The policy was spurred by the Interagency Management Council (IMC) which was concerned that allowing agencies to freely withdraw from GSA local telecom contracts to issue their own would reduce the volume on the GSA contracts and in turn cause the telecom vendor to increase the cost to the agencies that remained with GSA. IMC members began pushing for the new policy late last year.

OMB's policy requires agencies that share telecom resources with other agencies to give 90 days' notice before they opt out of an interagency contract. Agencies such as GSA that provide telecom services to other agencies must give 180 days' notice before they decide to terminate a contract according to the policy.

"Federal organizations should acquire telecommunications services in a manner that is most cost-effective to the government " OMB's memo said. "There is a rebuttable presumption that shared telecommunications are more efficient to the government as a whole than services acquired by individual agencies for their own use."

A Popular Policy

Frank Lally associate deputy assistant secretary for telecommunications at the Department of Veterans Affairs and chairman of the IMC said the policy has been widely endorsed by IMC members.

"It represents a fair compromise between those things that should be done collectively and people's ability to do things for their own agencies " he said. "If an agency buys service from GSA and then decides to make its own deal it is supposed to offer that deal to other customers in the [local service] area. Agencies will have more flexibility in the future than they have had in the past."

Creating a Forum

The policy also calls on the IMC to establish the Local Telecommunications Advisory Council a subcommittee that will provide a forum for agencies to discuss combining their requirements and to share telecom expertise. LTAC also will settle disputes that arise between agencies that are sharing telecom resources. Agencies may appeal LTAC decisions to the full IMC and if still dissatisfied with the outcome to the Chief Information Officers Council and then to OMB.

Margaret Binns assistant commissioner for regional services at GSA's Federal Telecommunications Service said the policy strikes a balance between the less-restrictive procurement atmosphere brought on by the Clinger-Cohen Act and the need for agencies to cooperate on telecom purchases.

"It is an attempt to balance agencies' new responsibilities with the value of cooperative behavior and to create a process and structure to help agencies communicate and make decisions " Binns said of the policy.

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