FTS, in flux again, adapts IT offerings

The Federal Technology Service is adding professional services to its assisted procurement offerings, with three becoming available this month. FTS, part of the General Services Administration, has a total of eight services contracts in the pipeline.

The new offering is part of FTS’ effort to stay current with changing needs, trends and procurement processes. At its Network Services Conference this month in Orlando, Fla., the theme of change was part of the atmosphere in both formal sessions and social gatherings.

"We need to know our customers more intimately," said GSA Administrator Stephen Perry in his opening remarks. GSA is "blurring the boundaries" between the Federal Supply Service’s schedule contracts and FTS’ telecommunications and assisted procurement offerings, he said.

"There’s a lot to pay attention to," said FTS Commissioner Sandra Bates. "We at FTS are trying to stay ahead of the curve."

The addition of professional services represents a major blurring of those lines. FTS has historically focused on technology, whether information technology or telecom. But now it is adding eight professional services contracts to the list of vehicles it can help agencies use, said Tom Brady, acting assistant commissioner of professional services at FTS.

"Some of the areas are going to take us into worlds we’re not familiar with," he said. However, FTS picked the most IT-heavy professional services vehicles to start with to ease into the new role, he added. The Management, Organizational and Business Improvement Services, Professional Engineering Services and Logistics Worldwide are all GSA contracts that build on FTS’ technology strengths.

"It is something of a change, but that’s what we’re going for," Brady said. "It’s a major undertaking to start a new business like this in government."

FTS is also looking for a vendor that can create an industry consortium to evaluate authentication technologies, said Steve Timchak, GSA’s program manager for e-Authentication. GSA will award a contract sometime this summer to such a firm, which will then find the appropriate companies to take part in the group, the Credential Consortium.

The e-Authentication effort is one of five e-government initiatives that GSA manages. The agency launched a prototype gateway last fall, Timchak said. Setting standard measures to evaluate authentication techniques is a necessary step toward widespread government use of the portal. Identifying users’ identities is a key element in making networks interoperable among agencies, Timchak said.

FTS officials envision a scale of security levels for different technologies. Systems that allow a simple user name and password log-in would be near one end of the scale, public-key infrastructure near the other, for example. The consortium will evaluate technologies that are being used in the corporate world and figure out what level on the scale they correspond to.

The goal is to develop standards for authentication procedures, so they can be uniformly applied and understood, Timchak said. FTS wants industry to take a lead role. "We want to plant the seed, but we don’t want it to be government-led," he said.

Once the consortium is formed, it won’t be "just a committee meeting. We’re serious about this," he added. "This will take some resources on the part of industry."

Security is another major concern in federal agencies these days, as evidenced by the number of vendors at the conference who emphasized the methods they use to keep data out of the wrong hands. But David Jarrell, director of FTS’ Center for Business Innovation, cautioned agency leaders against putting too much emphasis on the security measures.

"If we overload the security features to a point where the mission is degraded, we reach a point where we’re doing our own denial of service," he said, referring to a kind of cyberattack intended to overload servers with data requests.

Security, however, is critically important and will play an increasingly visible role in FTS’ telecom contract offerings, Jarrell said. "If we’re not putting secu-rity as an integrated part of our offerings, we’re missing the boat," he said.


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