Fed CIOs, GSA smooth agencies' Networx transition path

Milestones get pushed back as efforts mount to switch from FTS 2001 to Networx

The General Services Administration has extended by four months a milestone for agencies to transition their telecommunication services from FTS2001 to Networx.

In January, agencies were to give GSA requirements on any services that would require the running of parallel operations before final transition. Agencies then had until April to get their orders in.

Those deadlines have both been moved to Aug. 31, 2010, said Karl Krumbholz, GSA Office of Network Services Program director, at a lunch sponsored by AFFIRM in Washington.

Working with the newly revitalized Interagency Management Council (IMC), GSA shifted the deadlines in response to agency requests, Krumbholz said. The schedule change came only after it became clear agencies would be unable to meet the January and April deadlines.

“Our concern is that if we were to push those milestones back any further, we’d be beginning to push the end of the bridge contract,” Krumbholz said. The expiration dates for FTS2001 bridge contracts remain set for May and June 2011.

Even the April deadline was problematic for carriers trying to transition telecom services to Networx by the following year, he said.

Most of the 33 percent of services that have been transitioned are simpler services, such as calling-card services or switched-access on voice services. By dollar value, only about 4 percent of FTS 2001 services have been fully transitioned to Networx, Krumbholz said. Among services remaining to be transitioned are data networks for several large agencies, he said.

Over the past two years, “FTS 2001 has actually grown by a million records, so the workload has actually increased rather than decreased,” he said.

The four-month milestone shift may temporarily ease the transition crunch for agencies, but it’s more palliative than cure. “We believe the only solution is a great deal more focus in all the agencies to get it done,” Krumbholz said.

Outside forces

“There are some extenuating circumstances as to why we are behind in some areas,” said Sanjeev Bhagowalia, the Interior Department's chief information officer. They include:

  • A growth in the number and complexity of Networx services. “There are now 50,” Bhagowalia said.
  • A need for detailed statements of work.
  • Changes in contract law that allow protesting of task orders. “Some in government that are risk-averse at times, have to go through much more checks and balances,” he pointed out.
  • Higher agency priorities. Other initiatives and mandates have claimed agency resources that would otherwise have been available for the transition.

Whatever the reason for the lagging, Bhagowalia said, “we have to step up and say: ‘Are we going to make it or not?’ And that’s where we are.”

No hall of shame

Through the IMC, an advisory council of Cabinet-level department senior executives, Bhagowalia is leading the work to help agencies get back on track in their transition efforts. “But we have to find a way that’s not just a hall of fame/hall of shame kind of deal,” he said.

Instead, he will be a bridge between the federal CIO Council and federal CIOs “to see how we can move things along to meet our objectives, but also to listen to the voice of the customer and be a kind of arbiter, to listen to both sides,” he said.

Meanwhile, the IMC’s goals are not merely passive listening. “We have to identify impediments to the delivery of products and services,” Bhagowalia said, and figure out how to make sure the job gets done. “I’m subscribing to the maxim that whatever gets measured gets done.”

The IMC has devised a set of metrics that describe where in the transition process each agency is, and is proposing presenting those metrics in an internal, online metrics dashboard, Bhagowalia said. He declined to discuss details before he had had a chance to brief the council on the proposal.

“Second,” Bhagowalia said, “we’re seeking some executive commitment so it comes from the top: We really need to make this thing happen without it being [mandatory], somewhere between mandatory and let’s get it done.”

The push is coming not a moment too soon, said John Okay, a former deputy commissioner of GSA's Federal Technology Service, now a partner in Washington-based Topside Consulting Group LLC. “What I’ve heard here is really very positive,” Okay said.

“For any initiative in a corporation or government agency, to come to fruition takes leadership from the top,” he said. “It appears, looking back over the last two to two and a half years, that the Networx transition really didn’t have the priority at the agency CIO level” that issues such as the President’s Management Agenda had. “Networx transition wasn’t one of the check marks for “Getting to Green,” he said.

A  steep road ahead

Krumbholz and other GSA officials have reiterated that their agency will do “whatever it takes” to help agencies with their transition. That includes everything from helping small agencies to write statements of work (SOWs) to helping the Defense Department resolve telecom service inventory problems.

But to succeed, the transition will have to proceed at an exceedingly brisk pace. Only 20 months remain before time runs out on continuity-of-service extensions, Krumbholz said. And the record is not promising.

Of 383 fair opportunity decisions that agencies must make, 199 have not been made, Krumbholz said.

Of the 383, 143 are being made with SOWs.

Of the 143 SOW-based decisions to be made, 54 have yet to be received by GSA, 37 are in progress and 52 have been completed.

However, Bhagowalia is optimistic. “I really believe that this is an eminently solvable problem,” he said. “It’s a matter of will, a matter of discipline, a matter of commitment.”

About the Author

Sami Lais is a special contributor to Washington Technology.

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Sat, Nov 21, 2009

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