DOD, GSA may bundle local phone services

Recent policy changes could push Defense and civilian agencies to consolidate and bundle local telecommunications services a move designed to increase savings in federal agencies' local telephone bills.

The new policies also hold the promise of more efficient end-to-end management of federal networks but raise some concerns about overcentralization of management and control according to industry and government sources.

In a policy memo signed by Emmett Paige Jr. shortly before he left the Pentagon as assistant secretary of Defense for command control communications and intelligence the Defense Department named the Defense Information Systems Agency which had responsibility only for long-distance networks to be "the sole manager of consolidated regional telecommunications systems and networks."

According to the memo "No regional service efforts e.g. MANs [Metropolitan Area Networks] shall be independently developed or procured without the concurrence of the DISA."

The General Services Administration also could gain additional policy clout over local telecommunications services in a recent circular issued by the Office of Management and Budget. The circular - based on advice from the Interagency Management Council a GSA-sponsored interagency group of telecommunications managers - calls for federal agencies "to acquire manage and maintain [local] telecommunications resources through collaborative efforts."

Such efforts the memo said would allow federal agencies "to take advantage of the economies of scale and management efficiencies that aggregation of service and acquisitions can produce."

The memo clarifies that this policy extends far beyond local "dial tone" or switch efforts and covers services such as "local voice and data communications videoconferencing cellular and paging services and those services necessary for efficient management and operation of a telecommunications system."

Warren Suss a Pa.-based telecommunications analyst said the DOD wide-area network policy and the OMB policy memo will give the government a "club" to beat down rates charged by local telephone companies which have not lowered rates at the same pace found in the highly competitive long-distance market.

The emergence of alternative local-access providers Suss said gives GSA and DISA an opportunity to select markets where they can aggregate traffic and take advantage of competition to push local rates which are so high that "the federal government now pays more for local service than long distance."

Frank Lally associate deputy assistant secretary for telecommunications at the Department of Veterans Affairs and chairman of the IMC said the policy represents a compromise by requiring agencies to cooperate on ways to satisfy common telecom requirements while giving them the latitude to withdraw from centralized contracts that may not meet their individual needs.

With an emphasis on collaboration the policy does not mandate sharing telecommunications resources but says agencies have a "common responsibility" to develop aggregated local services.

Bob Woods commissioner of GSA's Federal Telecommunications Service believes the policy will allow all agencies to work in partnership for local services that would benefit the whole.

The partnership approach Woods said extends to a new relationship between GSA and DOD which have sparred over traffic and leadership in the past. Woods said in areas where DISA has set up a MAN GSA would look for a partnership arrangement that would funnel civilian agency traffic through the DOD suite.

Peter Paulson chief of network operations at DISA said the agency has yet to formulate a policy on collaborating with civilian agencies on MANs.

Woods said it would make sense for an agency such as the Internal Revenue Service to manage a consolidated federal local service in a location such as Martinsburg W.Va. where the "IRS has 99 percent of the traffic.... In some cases it will make sense for [GSA] to act as the provider and in other cases we will work with other folks."

Woods added that the inclusion of cellular service could help GSA's efforts to convince senior agency officials to sign on to the nationwide Federal Wireless Telecommunications Services contract GSA signed last year with GTE Corp.

Though DISA has a solid management mandate to control MANs the agency plans to take a collaborative approach with the services. "We don't care who contracts out the MANs " Paulson said "but we do want to have the ability to influence the design and approve that design to insure it is in sync with the requirements of the [Defense Information Systems Network]."

Paulson added that DISA also wants to "control the MAN from the network management perspective down to the edge device on the installation." But he emphasized DISA does not want to extend its influence onto individual bases.

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