Lawmakers, Industry Blast Handling of MAA Contracts

Bates Promises Changes to Address Problems

House lawmakers June 13 strongly criticized the General Services Administration's handling of Metropolitan Area Acquisition telecommunications contracts, questioning whether the agency would achieve anticipated savings because of the slow transition to the new contracts.

At a hearing before the House Government Reform subcommittee on technology and procurement policy, the GSA also came under fire from representatives of companies holding MAA contracts. They claimed the agency has made it difficult for the companies to communicate with government customers and provide services.

The MAA contract holders provide local telecommunications services to federal agencies in cities and metropolitan areas throughout the United States.

James Payne, senior vice president of government systems for Qwest Communications Inc., told the subcommittee that GSA puts itself between the company and customers, refusing to let Qwest work directly with customers to select services, plan installations and correct problems. The Denver company holds four MAA contracts.

John Doherty, vice president of government markets for AT&T Corp., said the transition to the contracts has been hindered by several factors, including uncooperative local exchange carriers, poor communication from GSA about customer agencies' needs, and continuing use of higher-priced legacy contracts. New York-based AT&T holds a position on 10 MAA contracts.

Industry officials and lawmakers also criticized GSA for not disclosing to customers the fees it charges them for its services in setting up and administering the contracts.

Sandra Bates, commissioner of GSA's Federal Technology Service, said that while implementing the MAAs has taken longer than expected, she still believes "the strategy that we jointly crafted is as [appropriate] now as it was four years ago," when the program was being planned.

In response to criticism from subcommittee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., and others, Bates promised to improve channels of communication, including the prospect of creating an interagency council to identify bottlenecks and track problems, and to address the question of GSA fees bundled into contractor rates.

The GSA had originally projected of savings of $1.1 billion over the life of the eight-year program based on existing business, said Linda Koontz, director of information management issues with the General Accounting Office. Koontz said the potential for greater savings could still be realized if new telecommunications services being added in local markets are included.

Although government agencies in the 20 MAA cities in the United States have not yet completed their switches to the new local contracts, Bates said, the government is already saving $1 million a month.

At that rate, it would take the government 83 years to get to the billion dollars in savings, Payne said after the hearing.

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