Agencies continue slow transition to Networx
Less than 16 percent have completed their move from FTS 2001
To date, agencies have completed transition of only 15.6 percent of their telecommunications services from the General Services Administration’s FTS2001 contract to Networx, according to the agency.
At this rate, it will take agencies more than nine years to complete their transition.
FTS2001 expires in less than a year.
Of course, come May 2, 2010, the day after FTS2001 bridge contracts expire, feds are still going to get a dial tone when they pick up a phone; FTS2001 bridge contract extensions will ensure continuity of telecom services. But it’s going to cost. In fact, it is costing.
“Depending on what services they are transitioning and to what carrier,” said Karl Krumbholz, GSA deputy assistant commissioner of network services, Networx services cost agencies between 10 percent and 40 percent less than the same services on FTS2001. “It’s an opportunity for agencies to save taxpayer money and use those funds for more services or for other services that they may need.”
Agencies’ sluggish pace in making the transition is costing in other ways as well, both in funds they must spend and in playing roulette with potential transition reimbursement funds.
Until all services have been transitioned, GSA must keep both FTS2001 and Networx running. “The longer we maintain two contracts, the longer we have to expend resources in managing more contracts and doing more work,” Krumbholz said. “Ultimately, since everything we do is paid for by the agencies through our fee, agencies should be anxious for us not to have to be expending resources on something that is no longer needed. It’s not like we haven’t told them all this.”
To complete transition, agencies must place their orders with their selected carriers, which must provision and cut over the new services. Agencies then must issue orders to start the new services and stop the old ones.
GSA’s original schedule called for more than 50 percent of services to have completed transitions by this date.
The agency tracks transition work only of the largest 22 agencies, which represent about 95 percent of services. The most complete list of Networx awards available from GSA, plus the additional awards Washington Technology has identified, show no awards from some agencies and few from large agencies such as the Defense Department.
“DOD is still making some significant decisions based on a statement of work (SOW),” Krumbholz said. Initially, DOD had expected to simply select from GSA’s Pricer, which lists services and costs from Networx carriers. Switching to issuing a SOW, which carriers must evaluate and respond to, has slowed the process, he said. But, he said, “to tell you the truth, I don’t know what their schedule is at this moment. We’ve been asking them and we just don’t have that data right now.”
Whether based on the GSA Pricer or a SOW, transitioning from one set of services to another or from one carrier to another can be costly. To offset those costs and ensure that they would not be a factor in agencies’ choice of carrier on Networx, GSA has offered reimbursement credits for nonrecurring charges.
Such charges could be, for example, for new equipment or installation. For a large agency, moving all of its services to a new carrier, those expenses — and the credit GSA is offering — could be sizeable.
For agencies to qualify to receive reimbursement credits, GSA set a Sept. 30, 2008, deadline for submission of Fair Opportunity decisions. To meet the deadline, agencies would have to decide what services they wanted, get bids from carriers, choose a carrier or carriers, and submit the Fair Opportunity award decision to GSA.
That the process can, in a general way, be summed up easily is no indication of the complexity of actually doing it, however. In addition to assessing existing needs, agencies had to estimate future needs, incorporate new security standards mandated by the Office of Management and Budget and implement IPv6 capabilities, among other complications.
Even with requirements developed, time was needed for carriers to assess costs for such needs, a task that, especially for large agencies or complex services, required further discussions.
Agencies then had to evaluate bids and make their choices.
Recognizing such extenuating circumstances, GSA extended to April 1, 2010, the deadline for receiving reimbursement credits if agencies submitted instead a feasibility plan for meeting the April 2010 deadline.
If agencies don’t get their orders in by that deadline, Krumbholz said, “then they’re not going to qualify for reimbursement credits.”
In addition to process, pricing and other guidelines, GSA has also offered help in devising requirements. A fair number of agencies have taken GSA up on the offer, said Richard Williams, GSA Networx transition manager. A large percentage of those requests have been for help pricing inventory, he said. “Then we have other agencies asking for help understanding the services and the value to them.
“And then we have others that want us to take their inventory and actually price it out and work with them to come up with a Fair Opportunity decision or develop SOW requirements,” Williams said.
In designing Networx, GSA met with agencies to divide responsibilities. GSA agreed to make the contract available, to create the guidelines, templates, processes, procedures and systems such as the GSA Pricer.
GSA also handles billing. Once transitioned onto Networx, an agency places an order with its carrier, which fills the order and bills GSA. GSA pays the bill and then requests payment from the agency.
For their part, agencies agreed to handle the transition.
But at this point, Krumbholz said, “we’re increasingly asking the agencies: ‘What can we do to help?’ ”
Instituting regular meetings of the Networx Transition Working Group — the first is scheduled for May 21 — is one thing GSA officials hope will help agencies speed their transition work.
“We will meet with the TWG as a group to share transition experiences,” Krumbholz said. “We also plan to meet individually with agencies, if they wish, to explore opportunities to assist them with their unique transition issues.”
The picture is probably not as bleak as it might seem, Krumbholz cautioned. Based on the number of SOWs and Fair Opportunity decisions and the detail required in compiling them, the ordering and transition process may be speedy and efficient, he said.
“This is a particularly challenging time for agencies,” he said. “Services and technology are changing; [agencies’] responsibility for security is increasing. There are a lot of pressures on them. I think all the agencies are working on this.”
“I also can’t comment on the extent to which this is their No. 1 priority. One can draw one’s own conclusions about that. What I know is that the sooner they move to the new contract, the more money they are going to save. And by not moving quickly, by not having moved by now, there’s less money on the table.”
Sami Lais is a special contributor to Washington Technology.