Telecom transition is looming

Telecom VOIP Switch - Shutterstock 

The General Services Administration is preparing to award its 15-year, $50 billion contract for 21st-century telecommunications. The agency is also busy making sure its customer agencies will be able to use it.

GSA has not set a firm award date for the massive Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract, which will undergird the agency's next-generation telecom strategy dubbed Network Services 2020. But Mary Davie, assistant commissioner of GSA's Office of Information Technology Category, and other officials have said the target is this spring.

Some deadlines for the extremely complex contract have slipped in the past year, though not substantially, and Davie and her crew in GSA's Office of Network Services Programs have been cagey about specifying an award date.

Judging from public presentations made by some of the bidders, they expect an award sometime in May. Ten companies have lined up for the contract, including traditional telecom companies AT&T, BT, CenturyLink, Frontier Communications and Verizon, and less traditional providers Core Technologies, Hughes, Level 3 Communications, MetTel and Windstream.

Amando Gavino, director of GSA's Office of Network Services Programs, told FCW the EIS contract is designed to be a total solutions vehicle that embraces "the full array of enterprise infrastructure services and capabilities necessary for an agency to fulfill its overall telecom requirements."

He added that EIS will replace the agency's Networx, Washington Interagency Telecommunications System 3 and local telecom services contracts and create a single acquisition vehicle that gives agencies more control over the $2 billion per year in network and communications services now purchased through the old contracts.

"EIS is designed to meet this demand with a lower acquisition cost and a lower service cost, thereby decreasing the overall cost of ownership to government agencies," Gavino said.

As the old contracts reach the end of their terms, he said federal agencies are shifting away from time-division multiplexing (TDM) technologies, such as DS1 and DS3, to Ethernet-based technologies.

Networx is seeing that shift already, and Gavino said there is a concurrent shift away from TDM voice services to enterprisewide unified communications services. "EIS is well-positioned to meet these shifts," he added. "In fact, our purchasing trends on Networx influenced the requirements on EIS."


A sprawling, daunting process


It's a top priority at GSA to ensure that the transition to EIS goes smoothly. It is a sprawling, daunting process that covers 53 agency customers, more than 8,000 subagencies and some 16,000 customer accounts.

The last big switch agencies had to make between GSA telecom contracts did not go smoothly. The transition from FTS 2001 to Networx took six years and ran up costs for everyone, cutting into the new contract's effectiveness. In the process, agencies had to adapt to an increasingly dramatic technological shift in the larger world as traditional wireline telephone services accelerated toward digitally oriented, smartphone-centric and app-driven technology. Some agencies were not prepared for the technological leap.

GSA is hoping to avoid such rough patches this time around with a three-year transition plan that Davie and Gavino said is well underway. Agencies must move their $2 billion in purchasing and 8 million services to EIS by March 2020.

"Transition is scheduled for three years, whereas Networx was done in six years," Gavino said. "That's double the business volume in half the time. Transition is a critical project, and we are constantly looking for ways to mitigate risks with the agencies."

Late last year, as proof of the progress the transition effort was making, Davie said GSA had successfully unified its 11 regional network services programs and offices into a single national program.

In January, the agency issued a request for information on how to structure transition contracts for those 11 regions. Officials are seeking input on their aggregated approach to full-service fair-opportunity evaluation, the kind of data fields that will help bidders, the trade-offs between "lowest price technically acceptable" and best-value contract approaches, and the minimum degree of service coverage needed to qualify for task orders.


Keeping pace with future advances


For the most part, bidders have been quiet about what they're planning for EIS. However, Level 3 and Hughes, which have teamed up to bid on EIS, sponsored a public forum in Washington last November to showcase what they can offer.

Executives from both companies said they would use software-defined wide-area network technologies to provide expandable bandwidth via a variety of platforms. The team said a combination of wireless, satellite and cable technology can help support agencies' scalable computing and storage needs.

Gavino said GSA has anticipated how the contract will handle galloping technological advances. "There will be change over the life of the EIS contract," he said. "To ensure the ability for the contract to remain viable, we've incorporated capabilities such as 'on-ramps' for agencies to get access to new suppliers and technologies, as well as mandatory economic price adjustments [and] price resubmission by vendors every five years."

That approach dovetails with GSA's category management initiatives, he added.

Category management simplifies, standardizes and uses volume to streamline enterprisewide purchases, implementation and management of products in categories. Because telecom is a subset of the IT category, Gavino said GSA developed EIS with extensive collaboration from industry and government so the contract would allow for continual improvement throughout its life cycle.

"The contract's structure was designed to provide greater flexibility to government in crafting [its] requirements and allow far more vendor agility in meeting those unique needs in a manner that best meets that vendor's specific business model," Gavino said.

He added that GSA intends to keep moving forward on the path it's building for EIS as the Trump administration takes over. "Within GSA, our [IT category] mission will continue to include making IT [and] telecommunications acquisitions less costly, easier and more efficient and more effective and beneficial to the congressionally mandated missions of agencies across government that serve the American public," he said.

"EIS is a core part of our telecommunications mission," Gavino added, "and we look forward to working with the new administration in improving upon the nearly $700 million in savings that the Networx contract achieves annually."

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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