Part 2: Is Networx transition a third done or barely begun?

Krumbholz explains finer points of statistics

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a three-part conversation with GSA’s Karl Krumbholz, director of network services at the Federal Acquisition Service. 

The numbers found in the General Services Administration’s 10-year, $68 billion Networx telecommunications contracts will sink average calculators; they just don’t have enough decimal points to work with 28,000,000 contract line item numbers, 45,000 possible combinations of services and — well, you try doing the math.

Even tougher is interpreting what the numbers mean: Have agencies transitioned 30 percent of services to Networx and thus are nearly a third done? Or is it really only 4 percent and the transition is in an impossible hole?

To try and make sense of Networx transition statistics, Washington Technology contributing editor Sami Lais talked recently with the man who helped create GSA’s contracts to replace Federal Technology Service 2001 and today is helping drive the transition, Karl Krumbholz, the Federal Acquisition Service’s director of network services.

Q: GSA has been tracking agencies’ transition from FTS2001 to Networx by the number of services completely transitioned — 30 percent of new services ordered, tested if necessary, in place and the old services disconnected. But then you recently said that, by dollar value only 4 percent of the transition is complete. How do you explain the disparity? Is it mostly the simpler stuff like calling card services that’s done and the big stuff like data networks that hasn’t been done?

Krumbholz: Well, there are a lot of big networks that still haven’t been transitioned. But what we’ve found is that agencies have ordered services and disconnected pretty much all kinds of different services across the board.

[The disparity is partly] a function of the lag in the time it takes to actually order service and have the service paid for by GSA and then billed back to the agency. There’s a lag in this whole process. If we were as current on the actual dollar value as we are on the number of disconnects, maybe the dollar value transition percentage would be a little higher.

It only suggests that in a lot of instances there are probably a number of underlying factors, with the lag being probably just one. A lot of the disconnects are services that have been disconnected and not replaced by new service.

Q: Agencies are deleting services? Just disconnecting them?

Krumbholz: Disconnects happen as part of the process of cleaning up your inventory, so some agencies have an indication of disconnects even though they really haven’t begun to do anything in terms of ordering new service yet.

So there’s a combination of factors: the lag, the fact that some disconnects represent clean-up — that have contributed to the disconnect numbers.

Frankly, I’m looking for [the dollar value] number to start coming up pretty soon.

You have percentages of what’s been transitioned, so what are the totals for Networx?

Krumbholz: Well it’s 4 percent of FTS2001, not 4 percent of the total amount we’ll have on Networx, because we don’t know what that is.

This is really not a measure of transition per se. Transition is getting everything off the old contract. This is a combination of stuff that’s come off the old contract and new stuff that we didn’t have on the old contract. This is just an indicator.

Q: As time to complete the transition goes shorter, are you seeing more agencies just going with incumbents, because it’s easier or at least faster?

Krumbholz: I wouldn’t necessarily draw any conclusions about that because we’ve seen movement in all directions. We’ve seen agencies staying with incumbents and moving off incumbents and to various different companies. So I can’t really say.

Q: But you have a record of where agencies are going?

Krumbholz: Oh, yes, we have a record. And it’s kind of a mixed bag.

Q: So is that information available?

Krumbholz: The problem with that information is that it’s similar to the value on Networx. The information we have is what agencies have done on Networx and how that compares to what they had on FTS2001. In some cases, they’ve combined old service with new service, and in some cases, they’ve discontinued some old and replaced it with some new. So to say exactly what used to be on the old contract and where did it go is not a science. It’s not definitive.

Q: GSA recently said it was shifting both the January deadline for agencies to get in their requirements on any services that would require the running of parallel operations before final transition, and the April deadline to get their orders in to Aug. 31. That gives agencies some breathing room, but at the end of the bridge contracts, doesn’t that shift responsibility for getting it done on time to the carriers?

Krumbholz: Right, but once the orders are in, implementation of the orders can be a combination of activities both by the agencies and by the carriers themselves. In an actual physical transition it requires coordination from the old carrier, the new carrier and the agency all working together to make that happen.

So this is how it plays out: We know what the deadline is; we know when the contracts are going to expire. The first step is we’ve got to get the orders in. We’re doing everything we can to help agencies get the orders in, but [ultimately] getting the orders in is a function of the agencies.

Q: Looking at why agencies are behind on the transition, one thing that keeps coming up is the Office of Management and Budget’s President’s Management Agenda. For example, former deputy commissioner of GSA's Federal Technology Service John Okay said the transition would be much further along had it been a checkmark in ‘Getting to Green’ on the PMA. Do you agree with his assessment?

Krumbholz: It’s a subjective conclusion. Any time something has high visibility, that it’s one of the things being monitored across the agencies, it gets the attention of senior management in the agencies. And they drive through the organization the need to meet those requirements.

The transition was never monitored at that level. Now, from my personal perspective, we had a lot of people working really hard, but they were kind of under the radar. And they weren’t getting the top-down visibility that they needed to make these milestones.

If top management had been driving to make those milestones, the visibility would have resulted in more resources perhaps and a higher priority, meaning more focus in getting it done.

So that’s just a subjective conclusion based on an observation by some —John, perhaps myself — of what the environment has been like.

Q: The CIO Council is beginning to really push the transition.

Krumbholz: I’m very pleased with the cooperation we’re getting from some of the larger agencies: the Homeland Security Department and the Defense Department, and the visibility we’re getting now at the CIO Council level. From the very beginning agencies tried to establish, through these milestones, ways in which they could try to get these things done in a reasonable amount of time. But I think that [senior management involvement] is what it’s going to take to get this done.

It’s absolutely mandatory that we get it done on schedule; it’s an unacceptable alternative not to get it done.

And frankly we’ve got to get on to other things. A lot of this transition is in the way of a lot of other initiatives that we can implement through Networx. To spend all our time just getting on the contract is not in the best interests of the government.

Q: The thing is, you can say it has to be done by the deadline, but the contracts are going to expire and it’s not like all the phones are going to go dead.

Krumbholz: The phones will only not go dead as long as we maintain a contract. Without it, we can’t even pay bills, and I don’t think carriers are going to just provide free service.

Q: And there is no mechanism in place to add extensions?

Krumbholz: The extent to which there are means — contractual or otherwise — to take action is something we’re not even talking about. The effort and the difficulty in addressing those means are things we don’t even want to think about.

Look at the challenges we’ve had; these are difficult things we’ve been working on but nevertheless, that’s the bottom line: We’ve got to get it done.

It’s hard, we know, but it’s one of those things. All transitions are difficult.

Next in WT’s conversation with GSA Networx guru Karl Krumbholz: Eventually the transition will happen, but what about next time? We’re already in year 4 of the10-year Networx contracts. Will next time be any easier?

Reader Comments

Wed, Dec 16, 2009 G. Money

Karl's answers are a microcosm on why government doesn't work. A simple question would be how much business are the agencies doing off Networx - measured in dollars. The problem is GSA doesn't know. Their systems don't track this in real-time so they are always a couple of months behind. It's a failure in the GSA's business and their IT if they cannot measure the right things. Everyone regards Casey Coleman as pretty and a genius and desrving of a fed 100 every year, but she has failed to support this program or make a fundamental change in somehting that matters.... GSA allowed an overcomplicated, over burdened contract to be let. This happened because too many consultants and blow-hards from agencies were involved. It should have been a hint when it took 5 years to award. Government will always screw things up by making things too complex, concentrating on the wrong things - in this case the number of circuits rather than money, and having too many people involved. Networx demonstrates this well. The program is a failure and should be scrapped.

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