GSA prepares fast-track security services contract

The General Services Administration plans to award a fast-track governmentwide contract for commercially available security services.

Thomas Burke commissioner of GSA's Office of Information Security said the agency will kick off its procurement process within two months. GSA will award multiple indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity contracts for commercial public key certification digital signature and secure electronic commerce services he said.

Bob Woods commissioner of GSA's Federal Telecommunications Service said the idea for a GSA security services acquisition arose when the Social Security Administration came under fire for not adequately securing reports on income and retirement benefits called the Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement (PEBES) which individuals could obtain over the Internet. Critics said someone with a minimal amount of information about another person could easily access that person's financial data.

"This was kicked off in my mind by shortcomings of PEBES " Woods said. "We need to offer a commercial set of solutions that agencies like the Social Security Administration can get quickly." Woods said the Defense Department contracts for information security services traditionally have focused on national security and classified information. "But all of the middle-of-the-road nonclassified stuff isn't getting done " he said. "I want to look at that."

Burke said his office has just begun working on the initiative with GSA's IT Policy office. He said he has not yet determined the range of services that would be offered through the contracts. "They would offer the capability to do certification or digital signatures or maybe just plain old access control " he said. "The idea is to have broad-based services for government and private-sector interoperability."

The GSA program may also entail "awareness" training that would teach customers how to take advantage of the security features built into many of the applications they use Burke said. "There are a lot of products and services with security built into them " he said. "But 90 percent or more of the users don't know how to benefit from that."

Woods said he expects to issue a request for proposals by mid-September but he also mentioned the potential for GSA to use existing contracts to meet agencies' security needs. He said he envisions a speedy acquisition similar to the FTS contract awarded in April for electronic commerce Internet and e-mail access services. Those contracts were awarded about six months after the solicitations were released.

Burke said GSA also may issue a request for information "to get a feel for what industry has to offer."

An industry source said GSA's announcement of the security services contracts was another example of the government awarding IDIQ contracts that compete with contracts already awarded. The source who requested anonymity said the Defense Information Systems Agency and the National Security Agency have existing information security contracts. "This says that GSA is going to set itself up as a competitor to DISA and NSA " the source said.

Burke said the GSA contracts will be set up to respond more quickly to customers' needs than the DOD contracts. He said Defense personnel often come to GSA "because of the accessibility of our contracts."

Woods said the GSA program unlike that of DOD's will focus on more mundane security problems associated with day-to-day applications such as Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT and Netscape Communications Corp.'s Netscape Navigator. GSA's program has been "fully coordinated" with security program officials at DOD and NSA Burke said. "They would prefer that the Defense Message System be the vehicle to provide these services " he said. "But as they build their security infrastructure they are seeing that maybe that isn't the answer."

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