Bumps Slow Agencies' Entrance Ramp to FTS2001
Bumps Slow Agencies' Entrance Ramp to FTS2001<@VM>A Support Contract Gains Little Support<@VM>Timeline for Transition to FTS2001
By Jennifer Freer, Staff Writer
The General Services Administration is scrambling to get back on track its massive $5 billion long-distance service program that is as much as three months behind schedule.
While 27 percent of federal agencies already have transitioned to the new contract, called FTS2001, that percentage is nearly 15 percent less than planned at this time, said officials with the GSA Federal Technology Service branch, which is administering the telecommunications contract.
The delays could be costly for FTS2001 vendors MCI WorldCom Inc. of Clinton, Miss., and Sprint Corp. of Westwood, Kan., if government agencies are not ready by the Dec. 6 deadline, according to government and industry officials.
And the delays also hurt the federal agencies, which are losing potential savings from the new long-distance contracts.
GSA officials, however, are confident the transition to the FTS2001 contract from FTS2000 can be completed by the planned deadline.
"The GSA doesn't consider the transition way behind," said Frank Lalley, GSA's FTS assistant commissioner for service delivery. "Some agencies didn't want to move earlier because of Y2K problems. Every agency has plans to move by December 2000, and hopefully most agencies will be finished by September."
However, some in government and industry are doubtful and, speaking on background, said that the GSA likely will have to extend the existing FTS2000 contract with AT&T Corp. after the December deadline.
The FTS2001 is GSA's long-distance telecommunications contract to provide government agencies with long-distance, data and video services.
Awarded to MCI and Sprint in early 1999, the contract has an expected value of $5 billion over eight years.
Each company is guaranteed at least $750 million in long-distance contracts from federal agencies, and then must compete head to head for the rest of the potential business.
The GSA set up the Technical and Management Support Services contracts to help government agencies get support service to speed the transition to FTS2001, but the contract are not being used widely, according to government and industry officials. The TMS contracts were awarded to six system integrators in September 1997 and is valued at $3 billion (See related story).
The FTS2001 problems and delays were discussed at a March 22 meeting of the Telecom Shared Interest Group.
The organization consists of telecommunications heavyweights such as AT&T, Bell Atlantic Corp., GTE Corp., MCI, Sprint and US West, as well as Competitive Local Exchange Carriers, GSA officials and industry consultants.
The transition from FTS2000 to FTS2001 is the largest in the history of telecommunications, said John Johnson, who chairs an interagency task force established in October 1999 to provide a forum for customer agencies, the GSA and contractors to address common problems.
There are, for example, 272,000 circuits that have to be switched over, involving 200 government agencies and 23,100 locations in 7,000 cities.
Federal agencies were supposed to begin transitioning to the new FTS2001 contracts in July 1999, but did not begin until October. As of March, just 27 percent of the agencies had made the transition, short of the goal of 40 percent.
The delays are hitting government agencies in the wallet because they must wait to obtain the lower prices in the FTS2001 contracts for long-distance, data, video and other services, Johnson said.
The delays also prevent government agencies from building for the future, Lalley said. The agencies must rely on the old way of doing business, with older technology and fewer service options, he added.
Meanwhile, the longer it takes government agencies to transition to the new contract, the longer MCI and Sprint must wait to reap the financial benefits, said Johnson and Lalley.
Government and industry officials could not put a precise figure on the potential losses to vendors and agencies caused by the delays.
Officials agreed that government and industry shared blame for problems and delays in transitioning to FTS2001.
Most of the FTS2001 problems identified by the Telecom SIG fell into three categories: constructing facilities and networks; gaining access to location sites in remote rural areas where service is needed; and ordering services. The ordering process accounted for about 70 percent of problems and delays.
The main problem with the ordering process is that, because ordering is done electronically, the system is very rigid, according to officials.
An order will be rejected, for example, if an address on an order is written as "Street" instead of "St." With up to a 50 percent rejection rate on orders, such problems can take days and even to weeks to resolve, Johnson said.
AT&T had the same kind of difficulties 10 years ago when it was awarded the original FTS contract, said an AT&T executive at the meeting. When the ordering system was not automated, it was handled by people who knew that "Street" and "St." are synonymous. But computers must be pro-grammed to make such judgments.
"There's not one quick fix to this issue," Johnson said.By Jennifer Freer
Relatively few government agencies apparently need or want to use the Technical and Management Support Services contracts established by the General Services Administration to help them switch to the new FTS2001 long-distance service contract.
The TMS contracts were awarded to six systems integrators in September 1997 to help agencies understand the requirements for transitioning to FTS2001 and to buy services to meet those requirements, said Frank Lalley, GSA's FTS assistant commissioner for service delivery.
The TMS contracts are potentially worth $3 billion if all the agencies take advantage of the TMS services, such as helping agencies with their inventory and planning processes. So far, only five agencies out of 200 are using the TMS contracts, and only one is using them for the transition to FTS2001, according to the GSA.
Just $22 million of the $3 billion available has been spent.
"TMS is not being used," said John Johnson, the Defense Department's FTS2001 transition manager and also head of an interagency transition task force.
Johnson's agency is the one using TMS for the FTS2001 transition. And while the Defense Department has benefited, Johnson said each agency has unique problems and needs that cannot be solved with a cookie-cutter approach.
"We can't assume that the TMS vehicle would be appropriate for everyone's needs," he said.
Lalley agreed, saying that agencies do not have to use TMS. Some agencies are using subcontractors they already work with, and some are using people within the agencies to meet their transition needs.
Along with the Defense Department, agencies using TMS contracts are:
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is using TMS for billing systems engineering;
The Navy, for data communications local area network management;
The GSA, for FTS2001 technical telecommunications training, land mobile radio and other support;
The Federal Aviation Administration, for a study of present vs. future telecommunications services.
The contractors for TMS are Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc., DynCorp, Science Applications International Corp., Seta Corp., Sherikon Inc., TRW Inc. and Unisys Corp. Boeing Information Services also was an original contractor but was bought by SAIC in July 1999.
Some industry officials think federal agencies could benefit from using TMS contracts, but as long as agencies can get the services they need from other sources, it is questionable whether TMS spending will increase.
|Date Scheduled||Action To Be Taken|
to December 2000
|Time slotted for entire transition process to FTS2001||Deadline is Dec. 6|
|End of February||Government agencies were to decide whether to use MCI or Sprint||Some agencies did not choose their provider unitl August 1999|
|First six months of 1999||Time for agencies to plan and test telecom networks||Some agencies did not begin planning until January 2000 because of Y2K problems|
|July 1999||Start transitioning agencies to FTS2001||Not begun until October 1999|
|March 2000||Should have 40 percent of agencies transitioned to FTS2001||Only 27 percent of agencies have transitioned|