GSA takes tough stance on EIS transition

GSA Stands firm on a key deadline for its next-generation telecommunications contract, telling agencies that haven't met transition criteria that they could be disconnected from older telecom contracts.

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As a March 31 deadline limiting agencies’ use of older federal telecomm contracts looms, the General Services Administration is showing agencies tough love. It's all part of the effort to ensure the transition to its $50 billion, next-generation Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions telecommunications keeps moving.

In a March 11 memo to federal agency transition managers, Bill Zielinski, assistant commissioner for the Office of Information Technology Category in GSA's Federal Acquisition Service, said that FAS on March 31 would begin the first phase of limiting use of its existing telecommunications contracts for agencies that "are not making progress towards transition." That date is when GSA begins limiting use of its existing telecommunications contracts -- Networx, WITS 3 and regional local service agreements (LSAs).

The message was also posted on Zielinski’s "Great Government Through Technology" blog on March 24.

In 2018, when agencies were slow to respond to EIS transition efforts, GSA extended the transition period's end date from 2020 to 2023. As part of that extension, GSA set March 31, 2020 to begin limiting agencies’ use of the legacy contracts. Agencies were to have awarded EIS task orders by the end of last September, but those awards have been slow to materialize.

When the agency made the initial extension to the EIS transition in 2018, it said it might offer extensions for Networx, WITS 3, and the LSAs through 2023, if needed. In his message, Zielinski said those extensions have been made, but agencies seeking the extra time will have to satisfy GSA they’re moving smartly toward transition.

The memo said the first phase of limiting existing contract access would begin after March 31.

"GSA will disconnect agencies, in phases, to meet the September 30, 2022, milestone for 100% completion of transition," said the memo. "The first phase will include agencies that have been ‘non-responsive’ to transition outreach from GSA."

Zielinski didn’t specify which agencies those were, but said GSA is monitoring for progress and that future phases "will be based on each agency’s status at that time and the individual circumstances impacting that agency’s transition progress, such as protests, or pending contract modifications."

Agency transition officers, Zielinski said, would be notified before services are cut off and there would be an opportunity to appeal.

He also offered agencies a way out, saying that to be eligible to continue using the contracts’ 2023 extensions they "must agree to meet certain critical milestones."

Zielinski said GSA will eventually curtail the growth of services on those extensions by freezing agency modifications in favor of deploying resources to process EIS contract modifications.

Jim Williams, a partner at Schambach & Williams Consulting and a former FAS commissioner, told FCW that Zielinski’s message was harsh, but probably necessary.

At the beginning of March, Zielinski was grilled by a House Oversight and Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Government Operations panel on the EIS transition.

"GSA is in a tough place where they are being held accountable by Congress to something to push agencies," Williams said. "I think Bill Zielinski had to do this and I think I would have done the same."

Williams said agencies that were cut off from the old contracts might have to seek "bridge contracts" to ensure they don’t have gaps in their service. He also empathized that the timing of the memo and the swelling coronavirus crises was difficult for everyone.