PSC presses GSA for EIS clarifications

A letter from the industry association reiterates questions about cost and structure for critical telecom contract.

Shutterstock image: illuminated connections between devices.

The Professional Services Council has quietly re-iterated some questions and concerns about the General Services Administration's multi-billion dollar, next-generation telecommunications contract proposal, reminding the agency that certain provisions could discourage some bidders.

The Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) telecom contract is the 15-year, $50 billion centerpiece of GSA's Network Solutions 2020 initiative, which is intended to be the successor to Networx. In an Aug. 25 letter PSC chairman Stan Soloway asked GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth about the draft request for proposals (RFP) for EIS, which bundles mandatory telecommunications service areas with such "optional services" as cloud services, managed services, data centers, managed network services, and security operations centers. The letter warned that this approach could "significantly reduce, if not eliminate," the ability of some current providers to compete as prime contractors, "reducing competition and denying GSA and other government agencies access to quality vendors."

PSC Executive Vice president and Counsel Alan Chvotkin told FCW on Sept. 2 that his organization sent the letter simply as a reminder of some of the concerns raised about optional services during public discussions of the draft RFP in May, not as a challenge to the agency's overall approach to drafting the document. PSC did not publicize the letter, even on its own website -- though it was posted to an out-of-the-way archive page.

"We wanted to make sure the issues are considered," said Chvotkin, even if they're ultimately not included in the RFP. He said the letter was sent to GSA as the agency enters the final stretch of developing the RFP and an accompanying "quiet period" that precludes further public discussions about it. GSA officials have said they plan to release the RFP by the end of September.

The PSC letter references a GSA meeting with industry in May about the RFP -- one of three public gatherings held through the spring and summer to gather public input on how EIS would be put together. At that May meeting, Soloway had voiced his concerns about optional services and how they could affect potential bidders.

In the letter, Soloway noted that optional services already are being delivered by contractors on other large contracting vehicles, including GSA's Alliant and OASIS multiple award contracts, NASA's SEWP government wide acquisition contract, and the National Institutes of Health's NITAAC GWACs. Soloway asked why the services were included in EIS, and whether GSA had "fully considered the implications" of how it structured the RFP.

Industry sources familiar with both the letter and the May meetings also felt the letter was intended mainly as a follow-up. One executive who is actively following the EIS contract also told FCW that the concerns raised seem to be held by a very narrow slice of PSC's 400 member companies.

The PSC letter raised another issue, however, with much broader implications: The price agencies would pay for services purchased through EIS.

The draft RFP, Soloway wrote, calls for fee of up to 7 percent -- a figure that "far exceeds the fees currently paid to GSA for use of Alliant and OASIS contracts." The letter cautions that such a fee structure, "by itself, will be a disincentive to agencies to use the NS2020 vehicle even for core services."

Longtime telecom and federal IT analyst Warren Suss, however, said comparing the 7 percent figure to the lower fees charged by other big government wide contracts might not be a fair comparison. "It misses the point of what EIS and other large federal telecommunications contracts are about," the president of Suss Consulting said.

Suss said EIS, and its massive predecessor contracts, like Networx, FTS and FTS-2000 provide more specialized services that likely aren't available through a broader vehicle like Alliant, OASIS or NASA's SEWP. "EIS isn't a one-size-fits-all contract effort," he said.

With EIS and other big telecom efforts, Suss suggested, GSA must specifically and meticulously work out pricing and access to a huge variety of voice, video and data services, along with engineering services and pricing analysis to back them up. Other contracts don't always have the same level of detailed support, he said.

GSA, meanwhile, said it was formulating a formal response to the letter.

"GSA received the letter and is in the process of formally responding to the Professional Service Council," an agency spokesperson told FCW on Sept. 1, adding the agency valued PSC's input. "We appreciate the members of PSC and their continued collaboration with us on so many of our initiatives."

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