Agencies pivot as EIS focuses on modernization

The $50 billion governmentwide telecommunications contract Enterprise Infrastructure Services began life as a like-for-like upgrade under the Obama administration, and agencies are playing catch-up as the White House looks to use the vehicle as a modernization tool.

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Government and industry stakeholders agree: Federal agencies need to get their Enterprise Information Systems solicitations out sooner rather than later to avoid higher costs and stagnant technology.

"Just do it," said Diana Gowen, MetTel's general manager and senior vice president for federal, urging agencies to get their fair opportunity solicitations for the contract out even though they may not be letter perfect.

In remarks at FCW's Oct. 10 Modernization Summit, Gowen said agencies should take a lesson from the Social Security Administration, which pushed out the first EIS solicitation this past spring. "Amendments and questions followed," she said, but "they're well ahead" of the deadline.

Bill Zielinski, the General Services Administration's EIS lead who also spoke at the FCW event, similarly urged agencies to move ahead with an EIS fair opportunity solicitation.

Aging "TDM and plain old telephone service will be more expensive" by the time EIS comes online, said Zielinsky, who is deputy assistant commissioner of the Office of Information Category in GSA's Federal Acquisition Service. By delaying, he said, agencies also risk be missing out on an opportunity to get more flexible, less expensive alternatives to those old services under EIS.

The number of fair opportunity solicitations for EIS is growing, said Dave Young, senior vice president at EIS vendor CenturyLink.

In an interview with FCW, Young said his company has seen 20 of the announcements from various agencies so far, including the SSA, Department of Justice and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He said he expects over 100 more in the coming weeks.

"Agencies are beginning the process," he said.

However, Gowen said the "bad news" about EIS is that some agencies remain reluctant to release solicitations because of the complexity of modernizing their IT systems.

A key reason some agencies have been slow, according to Zielinski, is a shift in IT policy. What began as a "transition" to EIS under the Obama administration has grown into a primary tool for IT overhaul under the Trump administration's larger push towards IT modernization. Federal CIO Suzette Kent, who also spoke at the Oct. 10 event, said EIS is critical to helping agencies "take advantage of governmentwide capabilities to move more quickly."

While some contractors have pushed for an extension of the 2020 deadline, GSA has so far demurred. GSA officials, however, have suggested that agencies that show they're trying to leverage EIS to modernize their networks and not do a simple "like for like" replacement of services could have more time to work.

Zielinski acknowledged he was aware of the tension, and said his agency offers a number of programs, best practices and services to help agencies move ahead.

As agencies decide when to issue their solicitations, EIS vendors are moving quickly to complete their due diligence and testing to officially respond to them.

All nine EIS contractors have completed testing of their back office support systems. Three are in the home stretch to get their official authorities to operate. GSA accepted Safety and Security Plans from AT&T, Level Three/CenturyLink and Verizon in late September.

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