FTS crossover forges ahead

GSA crossover site

Companies may still have questions about the General Services Administration's ability to fairly open its telecommunications contracts to new competition, but the crossover will start as scheduled Aug. 17, officials said.

"We want to make this the most streamlined process we can," Sandra Bates, commissioner of GSA's Federal Technology Service, said Aug. 3. "We will be thorough and deliberate, but we will not take forever."

The controversy revolves around GSA's decision to move forward with plans to bring in other vendors to compete with FTS 2001 long-distance contractors Sprint and WorldCom Inc.

The crossover process allows vendors that hold local-service Metropolitan Acquisition Area contracts to modify those contracts and offer long-distance services. Vendors may offer services already available under FTS 2001, enhanced versions of existing services or completely new services.

Many observers, including Congress, have called for GSA to move forward with this plan because of findings by the General Accounting Office that delays in the transition to the new contract have led to an extra cost for agencies of more than $74 million.

Over the past two months FTS received questions and provided answers on many industry concerns, and on Aug. 17 will release its crossover instructions in an attempt to "implement a fair process that provides a level playing field," said John Johnson, assistant commissioner for service development at FTS.

The crossover idea is built into the FTS telecom principles, agreed on by GSA, Congress, industry and federal agencies. But GSA is just now determining the details of how this crossover will happen, and the vendors on both sides are not entirely pleased by the picture that is emerging.

"More competition does not necessarily mean better services," said Rick Slifer, director of FTS 2001 programs at WorldCom Inc.

WorldCom, like its fellow incumbent Sprint, is asking for GSA to guarantee that MAA vendors are held to the same strict requirements as the original bidders were under the FTS 2001 evaluation process, Slifer said.

Audrey Hallett, director of contracts for Qwest Communications International Inc.'s Government Systems Division, expressed concern that the minimum revenue guarantees GSA promised for Sprint and WorldCom will stand in the way of bringing in new vendors that could have a negative impact on meeting those goals.

In the end, everything will be guided by "what makes sense" for the government when it comes to best value, said Hugo Bonuccelli, a member of Mitretek Systems' telecommunications division who is working with GSA on the FTS 2001 contract.

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