SSA moves on FTS 2001

The Social Security Administration, one of the last federal agencies to

select a long-distance carrier under FTS 2001, has completed transferring

its voice and fax phone lines, including its toll-free service, to WorldCom

Inc.

And this month, the agency began switching over its data lines at about

1,900 locations to its new carrier, a process it expects to complete by

this December, said Robert Meekins, chief of the Federal Telecommunications

Service management branch at SSA.

Agency and company officials said the long-distance service transition,

completed in May, was done on time and included a complex toll-free calling

system that required more than 3,000 different recorded messages. "It has

complex automation and routing, and all the messages are provided in English

and Spanish," said Susan Zeleniak, director of civilian agencies for WorldCom

(formerly MCI WorldCom). The system is designed to accommodate about 7.5

million calls per month.

"There were about 300 dedicated access circuits, and we provided additional

capacity in eight [WorldCom] switching centers nationwide to assure them

reliability and redundancy," she said.

Sandra Bates, FTS commissioner at the General Services Administration,

called SSA's long-distance transition "a noteworthy event." The agency's

new toll-free service, Bates said in a statement, "is the most sophisticated

and complex network of its type. Transition from the old FTS 2000 network

to the new FTS 2001 network was a challenging task, technically and operationally."

SSA has 23 call centers across the country and 15 additional satellite

offices. All had to be transitioned, she said.

For the agency's toll-free service, Zeleniak said, WorldCom set up "a

very sophisticated overflow routing capability.

"We set it up so that a call looked for available access at all [23

agency centers], as opposed to — in most toll-free environments — three

to five [access] routes. Ours allows each call to look to every center to

be answered," she said.

Meekins said SSA completed the transition in nine months, though some

said it would take 18 months to two years to finish the task. "We were working

night and day to get this done," he said. "A lot of people didn't think

it could be done in the time frame we were projecting."

SSA and WorldCom made the changeovers, or cuts, in phases instead of

switching over all at once. During six weekends, he said, cuts were made

from AT&T Corp. to WorldCom. "The challenge was operating a single network

with two carriers," he said. "AT&T was an active player in every cut

weekend. They provided very good support in working with us. I think that

was one of the keys in the whole effort — the teamwork."

Meekins said there is still a great deal of work to be done establishing

links to the agency's field offices. For that purpose, the agency is moving

from dedicated lines to frame relay, supported by an Asynchronous Transfer

Mode backbone, he said. "Our intent is to bring together voice, data and

video from the same pipe," he said. "We're targeting to do that by December

of this year."

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