No mere threats
Only rarely do federal officials, typically cautious individuals by nature,
use a public forum to give a tongue-lashing to federal contractors.
So when Dennis Fischer, commissioner of the Federal Telecommunications
Service at the General Services Administration, claims publicly that some
telecommunications companies have "ripped off" the government, the situation
must be pretty bad.
Fischer, speaking at last week's 13th annual Federal Telecommunications
Conference in Tysons Corner, Va., said some telecom providers that have
lost business in the government's transition from the FTS 2000 program to
FTS 2001 were not passing off the work fast enough to the new contractors.
The delays are more than an inconvenience — they're costing the government
money because agencies are not able to take advantage of FTS 2001's lower
GSA was not willing to let the transition drag on indefinitely. Fischer
said the agency was prepared to begin weighing the speed in which companies
moved work to new contract winners as part of a past performance measure
in future contract bids.
Fisher's threat, if made years ago before procurement reform, may have
been empty. But now agencies have the whip of past performance to crack
at vendors to improve responsiveness.
But the past performance stick should not be left as a simple threat.
Fischer, GSA and all other agencies should take full advantage of the past
performance measurement. FTS should use the yardstick of how fast and cooperatively
vendors transition work to a new winner as part of every contract award.
After all, they are the customers, right?
FTS' experience is not isolated. That means taxpayers probably lose
millions of dollars every year because of foot-dragging by companies reluctant
to give up contracts. FTS officials estimated the long-distance rates Sprint
and MCI Worldcom Inc. bid to win the FTS 2001 would save the government
$4 billion during eight years. Any delay, however short, costs money.
Fischer was right to threaten past performance penalties. But he and
other officials should make it a promise.