Protests plague DISA telecom procurements

The Defense Information Systems Agency's decision to modify existing contracts for key telecommunications programs has led to a series of vendor protests in the past month. In particular three procurements are at issue. DISA recently modified AT&T's domestic DISA Transmission Services Contract (DTS-C) to include international service - a move that MCI Corp. protested.

DISA also modified the MCI domestic DISN Switched/Bandwidth Manager Services-CONUS contract to provide advanced transmission services which Sprint protested. Then DISA awarded a high-speed fiber-optic-ring network to Deutsch Bundespost to serve widely dispersed U.S. military bases in Germany MCI protested.

Pete Paulson DISA's Defense Information Systems Network operations manager said the agency modified the DISN contracts to meet the "mission needs" of the Joint Chiefs of Staff which include a secure worldwide network to support U.S. forces. Those requirements grew out of communications foul-ups in the past "that resulted in significant problems [that affected] our ability to fight a war."

DISA's Nov. 19 decision to modify DTS-C came just two days after issuing requests for information (RFIs) for acquiring transmission services in Europe and the Pacific. DISN Transmission Services-Pacific (DTS-P) and DISN Transmission Services-Europe (DTS-E) long-anticipated by industry are valued at more than $1 billion each. The juxtaposition of these two actions - issuing international RFIs and adding international services to DTS-C potentially through 2006 - caused widespread confusion among potential bidders. Diana Gowen the director of Defense sales and marketing at MCI Government Markets which last month filed a protest with the General Accounting Office over the expansion of the DTS-C contract to AT&T said DISA's action did more than send mixed signals to the highly competitive long-haul telecommunications industry.

"I'd describe it as cognitive dissonance " she said. Gowen said DISA was "misguided in expanding the scope" of the DTS-C contract to such an extent. "There are many vendors capable of supplying international circuits " she said. "There's too big a bidders base for them to do that. I don't know what they're thinking. Why would they do it? What is the point?" At press time last week Sprint had not decided whether to file a protest against the DTS-C modification. But Bill Brougham director of Sprint's Defense Program Office sharply criticized the move. "DISA is elevating convenience over the procurement statutes and is attempting to acquire by sole source what the organization has traditionally been able to acquire through full and open competition " he said.

Paulson said DISA understands the competitive environment of the international telecommunications market but he added "Price is not the only consideration here. We need a protected network to ensure [against] or minimize the ability of hackers to get into our network."

Network management issues also played a part in DISA's decision to add international services to the AT&T contract rather than procuring circuits on a piecemeal basis in the open market. "When you have thousands of contracts providing you service network management becomes very difficult " Paulson said.

He said the addition of international services to the AT&T domestic contract will provide a competitive vehicle to the European and Asia-Pacific contracts when they are awarded. DISA also reserves the right to acquire circuits independent of these contracting vehicles Paulson said.

Little Comment From AT&T AT&T did not have any comment on the protest because officials had not read it by deadline last week. But an AT&T spokeswoman said "DISA has been talking about doing this for a year and finally decided to do it." In the second sole-source procurement Sprint filed a separate GAO protest against DISA's decision to acquire Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) "cloud" services through MCI's DISN Switched/Bandwidth Manager Services-CONUS contract.

Sprint called the move "beyond the scope" of the MCI contract adding that it "constitutes a sole-source acquisition of services in violation of the Competition in Contracting Act." DISA portrayed the addition of ATM transmission services as an "enhancement" to the MCI contract. Gowen described the addition as an existing option to that vehicle. Sprint in its protest disagreed arguing that "ATM transmission services are materially different" than the requirements specified in the original procurement which covered equipment and system management not circuits.

Paulson said the Bandwidth Manager procurement document anticipated the need "for future addition of ATM services " which covers the addition of ATM circuits to the MCI contract. MCI also protested the sole-source award by DISA's Defense Information Technology Contracting Office-Europe to Deutsch Bundespost of a contract for a fiber-optic ring serving U.S. military bases in Germany Gowen said. "We told them ahead of time there were other potential vendors " Gowen said.

But she added "They just did not compete it." Because this contract was managed from Europe Paulson said he could not make an immediate comment "because I don't have enough information about it." Paulson indicated he understood the frustration of the vendors. "This is the largest single telecommunications transition that has ever taken place " he said. "We expect some disagreements from the contracting community. Our job is to move forward."

Warren Suss a telecommunications analyst who follows the federal market said agencies such as DISA need the ability to modify high- technology contracts due to the fast development of new technologies. But he added "It's a bit of a stretch to issue a modification to add international transmission services to a contract designed to provide domestic services."

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