Networx still in progress

After months of development work, the telecom contract vehicle expected to take over when the FTS 2001 vehicle expires remains in a state of flux.

The General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service has crafted a proposed structure for the new contract, called Networx. But industry comments and questioning from Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and staff members of his Government Reform Committee have made it clear that more work needs to be done, said John Johnson, assistant commissioner for service development and acting assistant commissioner for service delivery.

"It's all on the table," he said. FTS officials will issue a revised proposal within a couple of months, he said, speaking at a breakfast conference hosted by consulting firm ICG Government in McLean, Va.

Key questions include:

Should there be two contracts, as FTS envisions, only one or possibly more? FTS officials' plan is to offer one called Networx Universal for broad, wide-ranging services, and a second one called Networx Select for more localized, and possibly more cutting-edge, offerings.

How should companies bill agencies for services? Many have suggested that FTS follow commercial practices, but Johnson said the challenge is that there is no single industry practice to adopt.

Should there be minimum revenue guarantees?

Also, FTS has grappled with the rapidly changing face of telecom and network technology. Internet protocol networks are in growing demand now, because voice over IP is inexpensive, Johnson said. But with conventional long distance service rapidly dropping to an expected penny-a-minute rate, Johnson asked, "What sense does it make to move to an IP infrastructure?" VoIP may drop to less than a cent a minute to encourage the migration, he said.

The Government Reform Committee, which has already held one hearing on Networx, is likely to hold another, said John Brosnan, senior procurement counsel with the General Accounting Office, who has been detailed to the committee. Davis questions whether Networx is too similar to FTS 2001, and whether the basic model of a large, centrally-managed contract is the best way for agencies to acquire voice and data services in the coming few years.

"I think this model may have run its course," he said.

Johnson had originally hoped to have a draft request for proposals out by May. Now he is hoping to do it sometime in the summer, he said.

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