Are you ready for Networx?

GSA officials urge agencies to plan now for next year’s new telecom contract

General Services Administration officials have spent the better part of the past three years preparing for the massive next-generation Networx telecommunications acquisition contract.

Now, as the agency’s Federal Acquisition Service gets closer to awarding the two-part governmentwide acquisition contract next year, it is the rest of the government’s turn to get ready.

“Transitions are very difficult and require planning and involvement from everyone” in an agency, said Karl Krumbholz, acting assistant commissioner for GSA’s Office of Service Delivery, at the agency’s recent Networx transition conference in Reston, Va. “This will not be easy, the planning has not all been done, and we don’t have all the answers.”

GSA officials still say they are on track to award the first part of the Networx contract, Universal, next March, and the second part, Enterprise, in May.

Replaces FTS 2001

The 10-year, $20 billion GWAC will replace the existing Federal Telecommunications Systems 2001 contract vehicle, which expires at the end of this year.

The Universal segment will supply government locations nationwide with a broad range of services, while the Enterprise segment will offer a range of IP services.

Even though the awards have not been made—and GSA signed two-year bridge contracts with Verizon Business of New York and Sprint Nextel Corp. of Reston, Va., to provide telecommunications service for FTS 2001 customers through 2008—GSA and other federal and industry officials stress that agencies must begin preparing now for Networx.

Now is the time

“This is the time for agencies to put their contracting resources together,” said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc. of Jenkintown, Pa. “If they wait until March, they’re going to be in big trouble.”

GSA also is taking heed of the need for increased support. Krumbholz said the agency will be issuing a task order this fall under the Connections GWAC for vendor support to assist agencies and GSA during the Networx transition.

This transition will be especially difficult, officials at the conference said, mainly because of the sheer number of new services available under Networx that are not found on FTS 2001.

For instance, FTS 2001 contains 15 core services, such as voice and data services, virtual private networks and videoconferencing. Networx, on the other hand, will start out with 50 services, including voice over IP, telework services and managed e-authentication, said John Johnson, GSA’s acting assistant commissioner for Integrated Technology Services.

To make the leap to Networx, agencies must take inventory of the billing and services they currently receive so they can zero out existing deals under FTS 2001 and figure out what they will need in the future, officials said.

“You must know what you have before you can turn it off and move on,” said Stan Wood of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

This work largely will fall on the agencies themselves, officials said, because although FTS 2001 is on the GSA schedule, agency customers should have the most information on their needs and existing services.

“The inventory is owned by the agency,” Krumbholz said in response to an audience question. “It is the agency that knows what it owns and what changes” it needs.

Ways to help

Krumbholz added that GSA is mulling ways to assist agencies in this process—although at this point, agencies are on their own. “We understand the problem, and we understand this is the biggest issue you face,” he said. “This is a critical issue, and we’re working on it.”

Krumbholz also said GSA will have enough staff on board to assist agencies during the transition, as several audience members questioned whether their phone calls would be answered in a timely fashion if they had problems or concerns with the new system.

But the questions highlight a tangible concern among some agencies about whether GSA, which is in the middle of a reorganization, has enough people in place to manage the Networx program.

Industry observers found the questions “quite telling,” given that budget cuts and revenue shortfalls forced GSA—and, more specifically, the Federal Acquisition Service—earlier this year to reduce staff.

Cutback concerns

On top of that, many agencies have cut back significantly over the past 10 years on the number of network engineering and technical positions as well, Suss said, leaving several organizations more reliant on GSA and industry.

“Now that Networx is coming, these resources are going to be insufficient,” Suss said. “All agencies need to work on a resource plan to handle the load and figure out what internal resources they’re going to need. ... I think these are very legitimate concerns. Over the past 10 years, there have been enormous cutbacks within industry and government. There’s going to be a tremendous surge in need for support from GSA.”

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