Senators appeal to OMB for Networx muscle

Lieberman and Collins want more pressure on agencies from OMB

The lethargic pace of agencies’ move from FTS 2001 to Networx has attracted the attention of two senators, who have urged the Office of Management and Budget to “exert stronger leadership” in driving the transition.

Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) expressed their concerns in a letter to OMB chief performance officer Jeffrey Zients.

“As of November 2009, the General Services Administration reported that nearly 96 percent of the savings projected by this transition have not been realized, and agencies have been slow to take appropriate steps to ensure a smooth transition,” they wrote.

Delays in the transition to FTS2001 from FTS2000 resulted in an estimated $74 million in lost savings, the senators said. Similarly, delays in the move to Networx are costing an estimated $18 million in lost savings monthly, they said.

GSA has been working to hasten the transition, they said, “however, we also believe that strong leadership from OMB would be useful in speeding the transition.”

Lieberman and Collins in June led confirmation hearings for Martha Johnson to be GSA administrator.

In her written answers to questions from Lieberman and Collins, Johnson vowed to provide strong support for speeding agencies’ transition to GSA’s Networx telecommunications contracts. Such strong support from senior management has been lacking, critics have said, and ironically is being spearheaded now by a CIO Council group led by Interior Department CIO Sanjeev Bhagowalia.

Despite the senators’ recommendation in June in favor of Johnson’s Senate confirmation, it was placed on hold in July by Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) over a question of GSA’s signing off on $175 million in federal funds for an office building in Bond’s home state.

In their letter to OMB, the senators also pushed for agencies to realize government’s other goal for Networx: transformation of agency telecommunications.

“In addition to the cost-savings, we also believe that agencies should be using Networx to take advantage of newest technologies instead of solely using the same or similar services from their existing contracts,” the senators wrote. “This is of particular concern given the security of federal networks and the opportunities to use new technologies to assist agencies in strengthening their cyber defenses.”

They also asked for a briefing by OMB, no later than Jan. 31, to explain what action OMB has taken to assist the transition to Networx, why agencies have delayed the transition from FTS200I to Networx, and what remedial actions agency managers can take to ensure transition activities are taken before the current contracts expire. The contracts are set to expire in spring 2010, but GSA has said it will take advantage of optional extensions of the contracts until spring 2011.

About the Author

Sami Lais is a special contributor to Washington Technology.

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