GSA nears opening telecom pacts

Telecommunications providers with an interest in the General Services Administration's FTS 2001 long-distance contract are busy compiling questions and concerns after briefings last month by the agency about plans to expand the deal to more competitors.

GSA Federal Technology Service officials spelled out their plans for a FTS 2001 contract "crossover," which would enable vendors holding either an FTS 2001 contract (currently WorldCom Inc. and Sprint) or one of 28 Metropolitan Area Acquisition local-service contracts to compete on another telecom contract. GSA officials unveiled the plan at a meeting of the Industry Advisory Council's telecom shared-interest group June 28. The group will submit questions and recommendations to GSA by July 16. GSA plans to issue final crossover guidelines Aug. 17.

For Qwest Communications International Inc., one company that has pushed GSA to open FTS 2001 to competition, a clearer definition of "government's best interest" is needed, said company senior vice president Jim Payne. GSA officials have said vendors that want to join FTS 2001 must demonstrate that their proposals are in the best interest of the government, which means their offerings may, for example, increase competition and attract more agencies to the service.

Payne said he's concerned about the disparity between the 8 percent overhead rate of FTS 2001 and the 1 percent rate of GSA's Federal Supply Schedule services. If a vendor offers similar services on both, agencies would have little reason to buy off the more expensive FTS 2001 contract, he said.

"I think there are many questions that need to be asked" of GSA, Payne said.

WorldCom, which was awarded an original FTS 2001 contract in 1999, wants to ensure that GSA requires new contract holders to meet all contract requirements, as it had to do, said spokeswoman Natasha Haubold. "WorldCom has always supported competition as long as it is fair competition," she said.

Sprint spokesman John Polivka said his company is pleased that past performance will be a factor in awarding new contract work and that GSA is ensuring that vendors must meet all contract requirements. "Those elements help to level the playing field."

According to the GSA presentation, any company wishing to join FTS 2001 must already hold an MAA contract and comply with FTS 2001 technical and management requirements. Crossover proposals also must include at least one of the 10 original FTS 2001 services—such as switched voice, frame relay or videoconferencing—or an enhanced or emerging service. Companies also must use FTS 2001 pricing structures.

Opening FTS 2001 follows principles jointly developed by Congress, industry, agencies and GSA in 1997, said John Johnson, assistant commissioner for GSA's Office of Service Development. GSA had planned to look at widening competition after WorldCom and Sprint finished moving agencies to FTS 2001, which they did in June.

"We're excited at the opportunity to bring greater value and choice to our customers," he said.

AT&T, an FTS 2000 contract holder that was passed over for FTS 2001, requested in a protest that GSA recompete FTS 2001 because the agency altered the contract after the award to WorldCom and Sprint. The General Accounting Office rejected the protest last month, saying it did not fall within its jurisdiction.


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