FAA taps vendor group for help on $2B telecom pact
- By Colleen O'Hara
- Aug 30, 1998
To reduce the risks of rolling out a $2.75 billion telecommunications procurement, the Federal Aviation Administration has teamed up with an industry group to formulate an acquisition strategy.
The FAA and the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association (GEIA) will work together on the FAA's Integrated Communications Systems for the 21st Century (FICS-21) program, the largest single telecommunications program the FAA has undertaken. FICS-21 will provide ground-to-ground transmission, switching and network management control for voice, data and video communications.
When it launched the FICS-21 procurement in January, the FAA said it wanted as much vendor feedback as possible as it ironed out a procurement strategy. Though the agency has conducted one-on-one meetings with about 45 vendors this year, agency officials decided that a broader perspective from an industry organization would be useful, said Jeff Yarnell, FAA program manager for FICS-21.
One committee that is part of GEIA is an air traffic control committee, which consists of representatives from about 100 corporations. GEIA formed eight subcommittees that represent about 70 companies to focus on different aspects of the FICS-21 program, including the systems architecture, how to make the transition to FICS-21 and post-award issues. The meetings started early last month.
"We're taking our assignments from the collective perspective of industry," said Raymond Bevacqua, marketing director at Science Applications International Corp. "We're not going to tell FAA what to put in the solicitation but how we would [recommend] it be structured. From my perspective, it's the first time I've seen this close a working relationship during the procurement cycle" between an industry group and a government agency.
This is a first for the FAA too, Yarnell said. The one-on-one meetings with industry and the partnership with GEIA is part of the FAA's Acquisition Management System (AMS), a set of acquisition regulations the FAA established in 1996 after Congress freed it from most governmentwide regulations in hopes of improving IT procurement at the FAA, he said. The goal is to bring "industry in early to avoid some of the pitfalls of doing it all ourselves," Yarnell said. "This early communication is designed to help shorten and make more accurate the procurement process."
AMS has made it easier for the FAA to partner with industry, Bevacqua said. "I think the magic word is risk," he said. "What we're trying to do is reduce the overall risk for contractors bidding because we will have input in the creation of the program and reduce the risk for the FAA in fielding this program because it will be more confident that it will be procured and fielded and performed as it is supposed to."
Bob Dornan, senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc., McLean, Va., said the FAA/GEIA relationship is consistent with other public/private initiatives, such as the General Services Administration working with Federal Technology Service vendors, to improve government/industry cooperation to make sure "what government comes up with is feasible and makes sense."
However, associations are not always well-suited to tackle some of these issues, Dornan said. "I am a little skeptical in that associations are generally forced to go with the lowest common denominator," he said. "They all have a vested interest and will try to bend this to their advantage. It's a difficult task for any association to filter widely differing suggestions."
The FAA plans to take data gleaned from the GEIA groups to help draft an initial investment analysis due for completion in the early part of next year, followed by a solicitation. An award for FICS-21 is not expected until 2000.