Cellular to come to schedule

After years of avoiding competition with its sister organization, the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Service announced that it plans to modify the multiple-award schedule program this week to include cellular and paging services.

The announcement marks the first time FSS has offered any type of telecommunications service - other than Internet connectivity - through the schedule program. GSA traditionally has sold telecom services to federal agencies via its Federal Technology Service organization.

Roy Chisholm, director of the FSS Information Technology Acquisition Center, said the schedule will offer a couple of advantages over the contracts for similar services now offered through FTS. He said FSS will be able to more quickly upgrade the services offered through its schedule contracts to keep better pace with advances in technology. And the schedule will give agencies access to services from a greater number of vendors than FTS, he said.

"This industry is changing so rapidly," Chisholm said. "We believe we will have the state of the art."

Jim Bowdran, deputy director of the IT Acquisition Center, said FSS has no plans to offer additional telecom services, such as long-distance or local phone service.

For years, FSS officials privately have stated their desire to offer telecom services, but their efforts to do so have until now been blocked by FTS officials who have said such an action would create unnecessary competition within GSA.

In contrast to comments made by FTS officials in the past, last week's announcement was blessed by FTS officials. April Ramey, director of the FTS Innovation Center, said FTS personnel are working with FSS on this new business line and will provide technical assistance as needed to help FSS evaluate proposals.

"We see this as another choice for our customers," Ramey said. "We [at FTS] are still going to have indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts for cellular and paging services. However, we do think that some of these alternative vehicles will better meet the needs of our customers."

Ramey said the Federal Wireless Telecommunications Services (FWTS) contract, awarded in 1996 to GTE Government Systems Corp. to provide cellular and paging services, will continue "for the near future."

But that contract, which consistently has performed below expectations, does not appear to be the best vehicle for selling cellular and paging services, she said. Most customers "want to buy more on a local basis" rather than from a centralized contract like FWTS, Ramey said.

Mary Lamb, director of GTE's GSA, Treasury and State customers focus team, said her company supports GSA's move to sell cellular and paging services through the schedule.

She noted that FWTS is focused on national accounts, and the schedule is geared to less comprehensive purchases. Lamb said she was awaiting the solicitation notice, expected this week, to determine whether it would make sense for GTE to offer its services via FSS.

Jim Payne, Sprint's assistant vice president for FTS programs, said he too was waiting for FSS' solicitation before deciding whether his company would offer wireless services on the schedule. He said Sprint will make wireless services available via its FTS 2001 long-distance service contract but will "look perhaps at doing both."

Meanwhile, Ramey hinted that FTS might award additional contracts of its own for similar services.

"There may be some additional IDIQs," she said, "but I don't want to commit to that."

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