FTS adjusts to changing landscape

The methods that federal agencies use to procure telecommunications and network services are changing along with the competitive landscape and the government's emphasis on justifying expenditures with business cases.

The General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service is changing too, in several ways that stand to affect agencies and vendors, FTS Commissioner Sandra Bates said this morning.

Bates said FTS is working on a "next generation" strategy because many contracts will expire in the next three to six years and telecom technology is changing from old-fashioned circuit-switched systems to IP and other new methods.

"But it's not going to be with the flip of a switch," she said of that change. "Customers are going to be in different places at different times."

Most importantly, FTS customers want choices, she said, speaking at the Federal Networks 2003 conference in Vienna, Va.

A draft version of the new strategy will be available for industry comment by April or May, she said.

Bates also stressed the importance of building a strong business case for buying new services. The Office of Management and Budget will scour procurements to make sure agencies have factored their networks into business cases, she said.

"You can do your clients a big favor as you work with them," she said to an audience mostly composed of vendors. "Help them with the business case. In the coming year, OMB will be rejecting business cases if they don't address the network."

OMB officials also will want to see that expenditures are justified by the business case, she said.

"Technology for technology's sake is not where we are today," she said. "In all of our customer agencies, the justification for expenditure of funds is not tech refresh. It has to be related directly to how is this going to improve service delivery [and] how is this going to improve my agency meeting its mission? Many times this is quite frustrating to telecom managers and IT professionals — that they must learn to think like that."

Vendors also should be clear that agencies won't have much more money to spend in 2003 than in past years.

"Many people are holding their breath thinking there is new money going to flow down the pipe," she said. "Everybody was excited about the new money coming forward with the e-gov initiatives. [But] no new money has come forward with the e-gov initiatives."

Instead, she said, "the idea is that these initiatives should be funded by reduced duplication and improved performance. There is not somebody in the back room cranking out money."

Congress approved $5 million for e-government programs in fiscal 2003, the same amount as last year and a drastic reduction from the $45 million the Bush administration had requested.

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