Lawmakers vent over slow telecom transition
- By Mark Rockwell
- Mar 04, 2020
Leaders of a House panel hammered the General Services Administration's official in charge of its $50 billion, next-generation telecommunications contract, demanding answers about which agencies aren't keeping up with the plan to migrate to it.
"We really have to put the pressure" on agencies that haven't kept up with multiple deadlines to implement GSA's Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract, Rep. Mark Meadow (R-N.C.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Government Operations, said in a March 4 hearing.
"I'm tired of talking. I want the three worst offenders for missed milestones -- who's responsible?" he demanded of Bill Zielinski, assistant commissioner, information technology category at GSA, during the hearing on some of the agency's IT projects.
"It's frustrating beyond words to be at the place we're at," Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly, (D-Va.) told Zielinski. "It's exposing us to financial and technology risk."
"There's no accountability," said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). "No one's head rolls when they don't make transition. We've got to look at holding agencies accountable in way that gets their attention."
GSA has dealt with such agency sluggishness before. In 2018, it extended its original 2020 deadline to 2023. At the time, GSA officials stressed that agencies should work hard on transition plans and not get complacent with the extra time.
During the March 4 hearing, the Government Accountability Office unveiled a study on the EIS transition that showed more agency listlessness. The contract is on the same delay path that bogged down its predecessors, said Carol Harris, director of GAO's IT acquisition management issues.
The transition to Networx, GSA's last big telecommunications contract, was plagued with costly delays. Shifting agencies to that vehicle took almost three years, resulting in almost $400 million in additional costs and lost savings.
"EIS will see a delay unless key actions are taken," Harris said. \When asked by the panel if any agency stood out as a "superstar" in EIS transition, Harris said none came to mind.
Medium and large agencies, she said, are in particular trouble with transition. The study showed that 11 of the 19 agencies assessed won't make the GSA's September 2022 deadline to complete their move from Networx to EIS.
"The onus is on the agencies to get their house in order and move to EIS." Harris told the subcommittee. She adding that the study recommended five planning practices that helped agencies with the previous transition. Those recommendations include an accurate inventory of telecommunications services; a strategic analysis of requirements; a structured transition approach; a list of transition resources required; and a transition plan.
Zielinski said he too is concerned about the slow agency transition to EIS. But he noted that some agencies -- the Social Security Administration, the Small Business Administration and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for example -- had developed and awarded EIS task orders.
Meadows demanded Zielinski provide a list of which agencies are meeting GSA's EIS deadlines by Friday, including which three are the farthest behind, and which three are at the forefront of transition.
"We have to get serious. We have to make them feel the heat," said Meadows.
Neither Meadows, Connolly or other representatives said what form that heat might take, however.
Harris suggested that, "perhaps there are some penalties agencies should experience to learn these lessons."
Mike Hettinger, a former congressional staffer who lobbies on IT and management issues, told FCW after the hearing that more regular congressional oversight of agencies could be one result. He said bringing the three agencies with the slowest transitions to testify at a hearing focused on the EIS transition could speed them up.
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, tele.com 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.