Transition to FTS 2001 network has agency users worried

ATLANTA— Federal users of the governmentwide FTS 2000 long-distance network last week raised concerns about how the transition to the FTS 2001 network may adversely affect mission-critical applications and whether agencies are making adequate preparations for the switch.

For example, Ron Hack, director of systems and telecommunications management at the Commerce Department, said he is concerned about how the change to FTS 2001— a telecommunications contract slated for award this fall and worth as much as $8 billion— will affect the department's efforts to set up a call center to administer the upcoming 2000 census.

"We will have a mammoth need for telecom support, and we are talking about literally millions of phone calls," said Hack, who was attending the 1998 FTS 2000 Users Forum here. "There are a lot of reasons the Census Bureau folks should not be pulled into a transition. If the current provider [AT&T] does not win [the contract], we are going to look long and hard at whether we should request an exception."

Problems in making the transition to the FTS 2001 network may include downtime in physically reconnecting network switches and infrastructure, in addition to ancillary issues such as changing billing and network management.

Hack noted that aspects of the decennial census have been hotly debated in Congress, such as relying on sampling to estimate the nation's population, and bureau officials are striving to ensure that nothing goes wrong. To that end, the bureau has begun talking with AT&T and other vendors to initiate a "dress rehearsal" of the census operation this spring. Hack said the bureau would be reluctant to allow another vendor to take over the operation even if AT&T does not win the contract. In addition to AT&T, Sprint and MCI officials have said they are competing for the contract.

Jim Payne, assistant vice president of FTS 2000 at Sprint's Government Systems Division, said he believes such fears are overstated. "If I can transition the Department of Justice and the FBI, I have a hard time thinking that the decennial census will be a problem," he said. "I'm preaching to all of my agencies that transition is a good thing; you're going to a new house, and now is the time to get rid of all of the clutter."

Ray Snow, chief of the FTS 2000 division at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said he wants to encourage agencies to prepare early for the transition, adding that even agencies that retain the same vendors will be affected. "One of my biggest concerns is that agencies will be too complacent and will wait and see if they will stay with the same vendor," Snow said. "Regardless of whether they stay with the same vendor, there still will be a transition. FTS 2001 offers a golden opportunity for agencies to add to, decrease or change their infrastructures."

The Interagency Management Council, a group of federal executives who advise the General Services Administration on matters related to telecom, this year established a subcommittee and a World Wide Web page (www.imc.gov/its2001) to provide agencies with information on how to conduct their transitions. Snow, a member of the subcommittee, said the group is advising FTS 2000 users to take inventory of their telecom assets, identify critical missions and goals and develop a transition plan that will ensure those missions can proceed uninterrupted.

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