EIS on the back burner

fiber optics and switches (PeterPhoto123/ 

Federal agencies are focused COVID-19 response telework, and telecom carriers are working to help, so modernization promised under the $50 billion governmentwide next generation telecom contract will have to wait.

The transition to the General Services Administration's Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract will likely see significant disruption, according to contractors and experts.

"I've spent this week working with existing contracts," said David Young, CenturyLink senior vice president, public sector in an interview with FCW on March 17. "I haven't worked on EIS this week."

As pressure from customers for more telework capacity surges, Young's company has been scrambling to open up bandwidth on its network for all of its customers, he said. CenturyLink, he said, is also supporting bandwidth for other public service efforts, such as Zoom online learning's push to provide services to millions of elementary and high school students working from home.

As the coronavirus unfolded, said Young, "agencies switched gears to operationalization and away from procurement. Agencies are ordering things through existing contracts." Strapped to provide bandwidth for offsite workers, federal telecommunications managers are telling CenturyLink to double capacity or more, he said.

In the last couple of months, prior to the coronavirus' spread, agencies including the Veterans Administration, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense, issued a "flurry" of EIS task orders, said Diana Gowen, senior vice president at MetTel, one of the nine prime EIS contractors. Those agencies have asked for month-long or longer extensions, she said, as they deal with the immediate crush of coronavirus response.

"There will be an inevitable slide to the right" on the timeline to get things done, she said. That slide, she said, could ultimately push GSA's deadline to get all federal agencies onto EIS up to an additional year. In 2018, GSA extended to 2023 to complete the transition, after having extended its original completion date from 2020 after sluggish agency efforts.

"You can't do IT transformation in the middle of a health crisis," said Young. The immediate job for telecommunications contractors is to support critical bandwidth needs, he said.

"If there is any legitimate reason for delaying, this is it," Jim Williams, a partner at Schambach & Williams Consulting and a former Federal Acquisition Service commissioner, told FCW.

Just two weeks ago, a House oversight panel hammered Bill Zielinski, assistant commissioner, information technology category at GSA with questions about why agencies weren't moving more quickly to EIS, which offers more modern cost-effective services.

A GSA spokesperson told FCW that the agency does not anticipate changes in EIS deadlines. GSA is asking agencies for information on impacts due to the coronavirus pandemic and, the spokesperson said, "GSA will work with each agency that has awarded task orders on a case-by-case basis to mitigate any transition delays due to coronavirus." GSA is still deciding whether any additional EIS guidance is needed for agencies.

This story was updated March 18 with comment from the General Services Administration

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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