Potential users talk EIS contract

Shutterstock image (by kstudija): telecommunications radio tower.

(Image: Kstudija / Shutterstock)

Potential agency customers for the General Services Administration's emerging 15-year, $50 billion telecommunications contract are sizing it up -- and seeing both potential and some drawbacks.

GSA is in the final stages of putting together the request for proposals for its Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contracting vehicle, the foundation of its NS2020 telecommunications strategy. The agency has been gathering input from industry and federal agencies to help inform the RFP, which is slated for release in September.

The Treasury Department's Jeff King, said he sees the GSA's developing EIS as a way to get lower pricing for a variety of telecommunications services, cybersecurity remains a concern with new contracts and potentially unknown vendors under a new contract.

King, who is both senior security advisor to the department's director for enterprise and the information systems security officer for the Treasury Network, noted that Treasury has a "scattered mission" -- covering banking regulations, tracking terror financing and monitoring the money supply, among other things. All those missions, he said, add up to complicated networks and interconnections, including legacy systems and even private enterprise infrastructures, primarily banking institutions.

"We're trying to pick technology that fits our portfolio," he said, which includes a lot of shadow IT, various levels of cybersecurity and the increasingly shared telecommunications infrastructure that EIS would employ."

"How do you deal with a multi-tenant environment?" he asked rhetorically. "There are various security levels that vendors have to handle."

King was among three federal IT and network managers who discussed their work to transition to GSA's EIS contract at a June 25 ACT-IAC panel. (GSA has hosted two of its own informational panels for industry in the last few months to discuss EIS; its third and final panel is slated for June 30.) The ACT-IAC panel, however, offered a unique perspective from potential federal users of the services that will be provided through the EIS vehicle.

David Naugle, project manager in the Social Security Administration's Office of Telecommunications and Systems Operations, said he was concerned about nitty-gritty infrastructure installation details, as well as the ability to get bandwidth on demand for video conferences.

"The physical work wasn't in the contract," Naugle said of some physical telecom cable and network equipment installation at agency buildings under Networx. Work with local telecom exchange carriers to connect with major services providers under past telecom contracts have also complicated things. "It can become a major parallel project if not addressed" in telecom contracts, he said.

The ability to scale high bandwidth as necessary to accommodate many users at once is also a concern. "The last-mile connectivity owned by local exchange carriers may not be consistent with the needs of large carriers" that might bid on EIS, Naugle said.

There was also concern about whether agencies that might prefer not to use EIS would have to justify that choice to the Office of Management and Budget. When the current Networx contract was launched, OMB required agencies to provide a use case for the transition to it -- or to document why they didn't need to do so.

Fred Haines, EIS program manager at GSA, said OMB has not yet provided any guidance on that matter. But after hearing the federal IT managers' concerns, he was optimistic.

"I haven't heard anything that hasn't been addressed in the RFP," he said. A "heavy, heavy, heavy" emphasis has been placed on cybersecurity in the RFP, he said, with GSA working closely with the Department of Homeland Security on the issue. GSA personnel working on the RFP have worked to gain additional security clearances in order to have more in-depth conversations with the appropriate federal sources, he said.

The issues of scalable bandwidth, as well as facilities installation, are also covered in depth, he added. "We put a significant amount of time into special construction needs," he said.

Accommodating EIS

While GSA is soliciting opinions from industry and agencies about EIS, the agency is also tweaking numerous existing telecommunications contracts to transition to, and accommodate, the upcoming contract.

Mary Davie, assistant commissioner in GSA's Federal Acquisition Services' Office of Integrated Technology Services, wrote in a June 23 blog post that her agency is working with vendors to extend regional local service agreements (LSAs) for local telecommunications to include the Washington Interagency Telecommunications System (WITS) 3 contract in the metropolitan D.C. area. Additionally, the agency had announced in March it was extending the performance period of its Network Universal and Enterprise contracts from 2017 to 2020.

The extensions, said Davie, will allow agencies time to develop requirements and evaluate and implement solutions using EIS and other contracts in the GSA's ITS portfolio.

Davie also said that, as part of the overarching NS2020 telecommunications strategy that EIS supports, the agency will incorporate services currently available on its regional LSAs into EIS, eliminating the need for duplicative contracts and extending LSAs expiring earlier than 2020 to coincide with the Networx contract extensions to 2020.

In late May, Amando Gavino Jr., director of GSA's Office of Network Services Programs, said he'd officially canceled three larger regional transitional telecommunications services contracts to speed up the move over to the rapidly developing EIS.

Davie wrote in her blog post that those regional infrastructure solutions contracts -- the Northeast Infrastructure Solutions, Western Infrastructure Solutions, and Central Infrastructure Solutions -- paralleled EIS development and brought the effectiveness of the RIS contracts into question and resulted in the decision to cancel them.

"GSA found eliminating the RIS acquisitions could achieve significant savings for industry and government and avoid unnecessary duplication and transitions," she said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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