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

rates.

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.

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