Editorial: A happy mess

The current confusion surrounding the General Services Administration's Networx program is refreshing.

GSA officials began talking about Networx, the proposed

follow-on to the FTS 2001 telecommunications program, more than a year ago, and every time someone talks, it sounds just a little

different.

How many contracts should the Federal Technology Service award? How broadly should specifications be written? How will new contractors and services be added? GSA's strategy continues to morph as conversations with industry leaders continue.

In years past, vendors have not hesitated to complain about programs lacking direction, but this time it's different. The apparent confusion stems from GSA officials' honest interest in getting this procurement right.

The existing telecom program, FTS 2001, has been largely successful at providing agencies with good services at competitive prices. In replacing it and the related Metropolitan Area Acquisition program, agency officials are not trying to fix a problem program but make a good one even better.

They want to ensure a smooth transition of services from FTS 2001 to Networx contractors — one of the bugaboos the last time around. They want to take a more sophisticated approach to structuring competition and create opportunities for smaller players in niche markets. And they want to ensure that agencies have access to the latest technology and services emerging in the commercial market.

The key, of course, is structuring the program in such a way that prospective bidders have the incentive to give GSA officials what they want. That's where the dialogue comes in. Officials have created a dynamic exchange of ideas and opinions with industry. Even Congress has jumped in — possibly to GSA's chagrin — establishing another venue for exploring options.

Eventually, Networx needs to jell so that vendors know what they are bidding on. And vendors are not likely to get exactly what they want, because GSA officials' first responsibility is to serve federal agencies. But the give-and-take, however confusing it appears now, only improves the odds of coming up with a program that works for everyone.

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