Protest delays N.Y. telecom buy

The General Services Administration's procurement for telecommunications services around New York City will be delayed at least a month by a protest charging the program is not sufficiently competitive.

WinStar Communications Inc., a wireless communications service provider, filed the pre-award protest against the first Metropolitan Area Acquisition (MAA) solicitation in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims earlier this month. WinStar claims the MAA program inherently favors the incumbent, Bell Atlantic Federal Systems.

In the complaint, WinStar said the geographic range of the New York MAA precludes companies other than Bell Atlantic, which merged with Nynex last year, from meaningful competition.

"That unfair disadvantage is compounded by the fact that only one vendor will receive a contract," the protest stated. "Only the incumbent [Bell Atlantic] has sufficient facilities across the entire New York MAA to allow it to offer entirely facilities-based services. Other [vendors] must offer services through a combination of their own facilities and the resale of other carriers' services or entirely through resale services."

The first MAA contract will provide local telecommunications service in the New York metropolitan area. GSA also has issued requests for proposals for service in the San Francisco and Chicago areas.

The protest caused GSA last week to push back its deadline for receiving proposals from June 10 to July 9. The protest so far has not affected deadlines associated with MAA procurements in other cities.

WinStar also said GSA's plan to award a single MAA contract in New York ignores language in the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act and Federal Acquisition Regulation supporting the use of multiple-award contracts.

In addition, WinStar said GSA never responded to its application to qualify as an MAA vendor as required in the first phase of the acquisition.

The accusation that the procurement favors the incumbent has been raised in the past by long-distance companies and by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.

A representative from a major long-distance provider said his company has attempted for months to persuade employees at GSA's Federal Technology Service that the MAA program did not have adequate competition.

He said he did not expect his company to intervene in the protest but added that officials at the company planned to meet with FTS during the delay to discuss ways to improve the program.

Consultant Maureen Rhemann, president of Telecommunications and Business Strategies Group Ltd., Houston, said she believes the MAA concept is sound, but GSA should allow greater flexibility in the ways vendors provide service.

"In looking at the criteria of the procurement, it's very difficult for a new competitor to provide all those things in the way GSA has asked," Rhemann said. "If GSA would allow competitors to be more creative in the way they offer service, it would be more feasible."

Barbara Connor, president of Bell Atlantic Federal Systems, said she supports GSA's single-award strategy. "I believe New York is the most competitive local-service market in the country and will allow for significant pre-award competition," Connor said. "Multiple awards have additional administrative costs for both government and industry and dilute the government's goal for a single network integrator."

Connor added that Bell Atlantic Federal Systems does not intend to intervene in the protest and will submit its proposal July 9.

Al Olson, assistant commissioner for acquisition at FTS, refused to comment on the protest.

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