House reformers ponder Networx

A centrally managed telecom contract may no longer be the most sensible vehicle for agencies, said the leader of the House Government Reform Committee.

The committee's chairman, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) held a hearing today to discuss Networx, the contract that the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service is designing to replace FTS 2001.

Like FTS 2001, Networx is designed to award an undetermined number of companies the right to sell communications services to agencies at prenegotiated prices. And like the contract it is to succeed, Networx would allow new players and new technologies to be added after the initial award.

Davis, in his opening remarks and in questions to GSA officials and telecom vendors, argued that agencies need maximum flexibility in ordering telecom offerings. He noted that vendors and the agency have been in dialogue ever since GSA issued a request for information last fall.

"The key to success here is for GSA to take advantage of the wealth of information that has been made available to it, in response to the RFI and through this hearing," Davis said. "This knowledge, not merely the designs of the past, should guide the structuring of a flexible telecommunications program based on current and future markets and evolving government needs."

Linda Koontz, director of information management issues at the General Accounting Office, warned the committee that GSA faces some significant challenges, including making sure that Networx's architects fully understand the government's needs, and ensuring a smooth transition from current contracts to Networx.

"Unless GSA follows through to resolve the challenges outlined today, the potential of Networx may not be realized," she said.

GSA Administrator Stephen Perry and FTS Commissioner Sandra Bates, both testifying as witnesses at the hearing, emphasized that the design of Networx is far from finished but defended the course they have embarked on.

Bates agreed that the contract should be as flexible as possible. Not only are new technologies, including voice over IP, becoming more prevalent, but the industry is changing through consolidation.

"This is an industry that by all accounts hasn't settled out yet," she said.

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