GAO Denies Qwest Protest of FTS2001 Bridge Contracts

The General Accounting Office ruled June 25 that Qwest Communications International Inc. had no legal standing to protest the General Services Administration's award of so-called "bridge" contracts to AT&T Corp. and Sprint Communications Corp. in December 2000.

The bridge contracts were extensions of the FTS2000 contract, the 1988 long-distance telecommunications contract for services to the federal government. Sprint of Westwood, Kan., and WorldCom Inc. of Clinton, Miss., were awarded the FTS2001 successor contract 10 years later, but the extensions to the old contract were needed to give time to transition federal agencies to their services.

Qwest, based in Denver, had argued that GSA knew months before the existing bridge contracts expired that Sprint and WorldCom would not meet their transition dates. The company argued that the agency therefore should have offered the extensions for competitive bidding.

The GAO ruled that because Qwest is barred by Section 271 of the Communications Act of 1934 from offering long-distance services in the 14 states where it provides local telecommunications services, the company could not have met the government's requirement for a contractor that can supply nationwide long-distance services. That meant that "Qwest is not an interested party to question the extension of AT&T's and Sprint's bridge contracts," the GAO concluded. It dismissed the protest.

"I think the decision is really a non-decision," said Jim Payne, Qwest's senior vice president, government services division, of the GAO ruling. "I interpret it as they decided not to get involved."

Payne said government agencies were the losers in the decision, locked in at higher rates included in the extension contracts. "On the other hand, though it didn't necessarily benefit Qwest, there has been a great deal of scrutiny" of the FTS2001 and bridge contracts, he said.

Officials of both Sprint and WorldCom said in June that the transition to FTS2001 was completed by June 6, the date Sprint's bridge contract was set to expire. AT&T had negotiated a 12-month extension, into December 2001, but its provisions would no longer be in effect once transition was completed.

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