USDA counts down to Networx

Managed networks are the future

The Agriculture Department, like many agencies, is awaiting award of the Networx contract after a year of preparations to migrate to the next-generation communications and network capabilities.

The General Services Administration could announce the $20 billion, 10-year award at any time. GSA is expected to award the Universal component this month and Enterprise in May. Networx Universal is for more widespread network and communication services, while will cover more localized offerings.

“We’re ready,” said Robert Suda, USDA’s associate chief information officer for integration and operations, today at an industry event sponsored by Input of Reston, Va.

The USDA has prioritized plans, completed and validated its inventory of equipment and services, and developed a service requirements definition for what is to be accomplished during transition. Based on the expected GSA award this month, the USDA will initiate vendor selection among Networx providers May 1 and award its work by the end of December, Suda said.

The USDA plans to move its communications services to Networx before the expiration of the bridge contract that extended the Federal Telecommunications Systems 2001 governmentwide contract for a smooth transition. Suda wants to take advantage of the speed, availability and enhanced services that Networx will provide as soon as possible.

At the same time, it is critical to minimize program disruption and cost. The department has planned the transition with the guidance of a task force and technology experts from its agencies. Suda has also developed reimbursement goals to help with agency expenses.

“Our biggest issue is, as in most departments when there’s something new, there’s always that blip in the first year, having to do many things at one time,” Suda said. “It’s like a new train line. You can’t build a train and move the train at the same time.”

It is a challenge to accomplish this at the same cost levels the USDA had last year. Suda said he can demonstrate the return on investment over future years but not for the budget process in the initial year.

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