FTS looks beyond 2001

The General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service is on the lookout for ways to help agencies do more with less, based on the businesslike approach it has used in the past, according to FTS Commissioner Sandra Bates.

With agencies' transition to the governmentwide FTS 2001 telecommunications contract nearing completion, Bates acknowledged that many customers will ask, "Now what?"

In her keynote speech Tuesday at the GSA/FTS Network Services Conference 2001 in Las Vegas, Bates responded with her own question: "How can FTS help you design your future?"

GSA/FTS is prepared to offer wireless, Internet and security technologies in the future, she said. However, Bates believes the real value of FTS will be in its ability to help agencies manage changes to new technology by offering converged solutions and capitalizing upon the international extension of Sprint's and WorldCom Inc.'s networks.

In her upbeat address to government attendees and technology and telecom vendors, Bates noted that federal agencies paid $150 million less in 2000 for telecom services than they had the previous year. This year, the government is expected to save $250 million.

Bates recognized the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard, along with FTS 2001 contractors Sprint and WorldCom, for their successful transitions to FTS 2001. SSA changed its toll-free network, which carries 35 million minutes of traffic, and is in the process of shifting frame-relay services to 50 sites a night, Bates said.

Despite the success stories, Bates faces a hearing April 26 before the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee, where she will be asked to defend GSA's management of FTS.

Even so, Jay Klohe, global account executive for SBC Global Markets, said he is pleased that GSA is pushing agencies to use new technology.

"It gives a push to the marketplace where traditionally they have been followers not leaders," Klohe said. However, he said that agencies need management to be more forward-thinking, and they must be freed from the fear that if they spend less this year, their appropriations will be reduced the following year.

GSA is at a critical juncture, said Jim Payne, senior vice president of Qwest Government Systems Division.

"It's absolutely paramount that they revisit their strategy," Payne said. "There are successes in FTS 2001, but they're asking us to take these anecdotal stories and declare it all a success."

Payne said he is concerned that GSA's role in telecom contracts is influencing the award of other contracts outside FTS 2001, such as SSA's contract with WorldCom for an automatic call distribution network. The General Accounting Office upheld a protest by Rockwell Electronic Commerce Corp. this week that the price evaluation of the bids was unfair because SSA did not evaluate FTS 2001 services as part of the cost of WorldCom's solution.

Payne said he wants the role of GSA in that contract investigated.

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