Senator's hold on GSA confirmation hobbles Networx transition

Bond won't release Martha Johnson's nomination for a Senate vote

The continuing wait for a new General Services Administration administrator — extended by the hold Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, R-Mo., placed on confirmation of Martha Johnson — is likely further slowing federal agencies’ already sluggish transition to GSA’s Networx telecommunications contract.

GSA has been pressing agencies to make the transition, but to date, less than a quarter of agency services have been transitioned to Networx from the FTS 2001 contract, which expires in May/June, said GSA Network Services Program Manager Karl Krumbholz.

Both the agency and carriers have been looking to Johnson to apply greater pressure on agency chief information officers offices to speed the transition.

“I think the overall policies of senior GSA officials have been pretty well aligned; they’ve made their priorities pretty clear about the importance of speeding the transition,” said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc.

Certainly top GSA officials have gone the extra mile to get the agency’s message out and offered help to federal agencies working on transition plans, said Bill White, vice president for federal programs at Networx Enterprise contract holder Sprint Nextel Inc. However, he added of Johnson, “I think she can provide a lot of the air cover that’s required as well as being able to tap into her relationships in a number of agencies to ensure there’s an awareness of the timeline and deadlines. That’s a big part of the issue,” he said.

“She knows a terrific amount about the workings of GSA from her years as [former GSA Administrator] David Barram’s deputy,” Suss said. And, although the agency is hardly crippled by Sen. Bond’s hold on the nomination, “it’s always beneficial to have the additional clout that you get from an administrator,” he said.

The hold turns on whether GSA plans to approve a federally funded $175 million project to build a new federal office building in Bond’s home state.

The Kansas City Star reported a week ago that Bond had the hold on Johnson to apply pressure on the government to approve a proposed federal office building in downtown Kansas City.

Perceiving a possible threat to the project from the Senate Environmental and Public Works Commission, Bond and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., jointly wrote to GSA to protest any holdup of the project and request further financial analysis of its efficacy.

However, “Sen. McCaskill does not have a hold on Martha Johnson,” said Maria Speiser, the senator’s press secretary.

Bond is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which writes the legislation that allocates federal funds to agencies. In July alone, according to the senator’s Web site, he helped direct nearly $1 billion of federal funds to projects in Missouri.

A Zero-Sum Game?

Until the transition from FTS 2001 to Networx is complete, however, costs continue to accrue. Governmentwide, FTS 2001 services are costing agencies — and taxpayers — as much as $18 million more each month than the same services cost under Networx, GSA’s Krumbholz has estimated.

At this point, the transition cannot be completed by 2010, so continuity-of-service contracts, which Krumbholz said GSA will invoke, will stretch the transition deadline to 2011.

Johnson in April was recommended for the top GSA post — she would be the agency’s fifth administrator in 14 months — by President Barack Obama and in June endorsed by the Senate Government Affairs Committee. A quick confirmation by the full Senate was expected.

A spokesperson for the Secretary of the Senate said in July, “noncontroversial nominations will be confirmed by consent.” Senators from both sides of the aisle agree to confirm noncontroversial nominees and waive a vote in the full Senate in order to move the process along.

Calls and e-mails to Sen. Bond’s office were not returned.

About the Author

Sami Lais is a special contributor to Washington Technology.

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