Work to be done before EIS winners see task orders

Federal agencies and the 10 contract awardees still have work to do before taking advantage of GSA's next-generation telecommunications contract.

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The long contract development and award process is done on the General Services Administration's marquee next-generation telecommunications contract, but agencies and vendors still have a lot of work to do before they can use it.

On Aug. 1, GSA awarded its 15-year, $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Services contract to AT&T, BT Federal, Centurylink, Core Technologies, Granite Telecommunications, Harris Corp., Level 3 Communications, Manhattan Telecommunications (MetTel), MicroTech and Verizon. See this related follow-up story for more information on the winners.

"While we have made the award, there are some additional tasks or steps that have to be made before awards [to agencies for services] can be made," said Bill Zielinski, deputy assistant commissioner for category management in the agency's Federal Acquisition Service in an Aug. 2 conference call with reporters.

All federal agencies, he said, have submitted their transition plans for EIS, taking stock of their current telecommunications facilities and services. Getting those detailed transition plans early and working for with agencies for over a year  was a "lesson learned" from GSA's previous experience with the Networx/FTS-2001 contract transition, he said. That process took three years and forfeit a lot of the savings potential, he said.

"As you might imagine," he said, "these agencies are all not cookie cutters of each other, so you have various plans in kinds of different places. I would say that overall, what we received from agencies were good starting points, and we continue to work with them on refining those plans and validating inventory and services that they've listed."

Zielinski said there were two kinds of transitions agencies could consider. The first, he said, would be a "like for like" -- a simple move from one service to a similar service under EIS.

The other would entail a "modernization" approach by an agency looking to jump forward technologically, he said.

Costs for the "like for like" transition could be covered by GSA, while a transformative transition could entail using an agency's budget and developing "fair opportunity" notices to issue to carriers to compete for under EIS.

Federal agencies, he said, will find competition in all of the more than 300 Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) that define most geographic areas of the U.S. based on population density under the contract.

In selecting awardees, Zielinski said, the agency did a heat map of all the proposals and where they offered service. It compared that with offerors' ability to provide four mandatory services: virtual private network service, Ethernet transport service, voice and managed network services to CBSAs. Other service offerings were optional.

Winners were required to be able to serve 25 of the top 100 CBSAs, and bidders could also bid on those they wanted, said Zielinski. The contracting approach, he said, could help the agency avoid award protests.

"It's crazy to use the term 'protest proof,'" he said of EIS when asked if the vehicle was impervious to formal dispute.

Zielinski replied EIS was structured to allow carriers flexibility to see where they didn't get what they wanted and adjust pricing or other parameters to bring services in line, then modify their terms to get in.

"In many instances, they got exactly what they wanted," he said. In two instances, carriers didn't, he said, without specifiying the vendors in question.

GSA plans full briefings for winners to show them precise reasons why they didn't get the CBSAs they may have been after and how to submit a request for modification to provide service there.

The same request for modification would also apply for new services and technologies down the road, allowing the contract maximum capability to evolve with future technology, he said.

Contract winners still have work to do before they can actually put federal agency traffic on their networks under EIS.  Under the contract, providers have a year to get their networks' backend support systems, such as those for centralized billing and ordering processes, finalized, in place and approved by GSA, said Zielinski.

Additionally, since those systems will carry government ordering and services information, they have to receive an Authority to Operate under Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 rules before they can provide services to agencies, he said.

Zielinski said agencies and providers can proceed with "fair opportunity" competitive offers and even move to a contract award, but without those approvals, they can't turn on the service tap.

Two awardees have business pending between them that GSA is watching. The planned merger between CenturyLink and Level 3, said Zielinski, is still not complete. "It's too early to tell" exactly how the two contract awardees' services will be consolidated under EIS, or even if the merger will move ahead, he said.