Networx RFP delayed

GSA, industry to meet next week on complex telecom projectBy Roseanne Gerin

Framing the debate

Contractors will look for answers to these unresolved questions and issues at GSA's next Networx conference Aug. 11 in McLean, Va.

Universal vs. Select: In GSA's two-phase acquisition plan, universal contracts favor large telecoms with national infrastructures; select contracts are tailored to systems integrators and small firms that can't provide all Networx services to users everywhere. The universal phase requires ubiquitous service, i.e., all Networx services must be available at all sites where agency employees work.

Contract timing: GSA originally proposed rolling out the universal phase nine months before the select, but may shorten the gap between the two or decide they should be introduced at the same time.

Service requirements: GSA has not yet provided a final list of Networx services and their technical requirements.

Billing requirements: GSA has reduced by 60 percent its extensive list of billing requirements, but what the remaining 40 percent entails remains to be seen.

Minimum revenue guarantee: GSA must determine whether all Networx contractors will be guaranteed a minimum revenue amount.

John Johnson of the General Services Administration said he and his team will present a revised Networx strategy to industry Aug. 11 at a daylong conference.

Olivier Douliery

The General Services Administration will wait until December to release its draft request for proposals for the $10 billion Networx telecommunications and network services contract ? a delay of three months.

John Johnson, assistant commissioner for service delivery at the agency's Federal Technology Service, said the delay results from the complexity of the program.
Networx, a governmentwide, multiple-award contract, will replace the FTS2001 contract for telecom services, which expires in 2006. It will have a lifecycle of about 10 years, starting in 2006, and should include a wide range of services, including circuit-switched networks, Internet services, remote access and satellite services.

The delay also prevents Networx, the largest federal telecom contract ever, from becoming entangled in election-year politics, said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc., a Jenkintown, Pa., government IT consulting firm.

"GSA thinks that putting [the draft RFP] out during the heat of the campaign might put it at the center of attention of the political entities overseeing it, and that the government might react more to lobbyists than to the user community, which is always the case" with big projects, Suss said.

Several corporate bidders and officials on congressional oversight committees, including the House's Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), have been keeping tabs on how the Networx contract has been shaping up.

In October 2003, GSA issued a request for information seeking comments on its proposed Networx contract. The RFI attracted interest from traditional telecom carriers such as MCI Inc., Sprint Corp. and AT&T Corp. and systems integrators such as Northrop Grumman Corp., Computer Sciences Corp., EDS Corp. and IBM Corp.

After reviewing industry feedback, Johnson and his team completed a revised Networx strategy that they will unveil Aug. 11 at a daylong conference in McLean, Va. The Industry Advisory Council, an arm of the American Council for Technology and an organization for IT executives and government leaders, will help GSA run the conference.

Lawmakers responded optimistically to a recent GSA briefing on the program's changes.

"We are pleased to see that GSA has taken the comments received from industry, Congress and other stakeholders on the RFI seriously and has made, what appears on the surface at least, to be some positive changes," said David Marin, Davis' spokesman.

Industry officials were unperturbed by GSA's decision to delay the draft RFP originally slated for release in September.

"It's not unusual," said Tony Bardo, senior director of civilian agency sales and marketing at Qwest Communications International Inc. of Denver. "These things are big, complicated programs, and each successive contract is broader in scope, deeper in complexity and has more industry involvement."

Chief among industry's worries about the delayed draft RFP is a lack of adequate time for the transition from the FTS2001 program to Networx in 2006.

GSA will need between 18 months and two years for a smooth transition, said Bob Collet, chief technology officer of AT&T Government Solutions of Vienna, Va. Industry had been rushed into completing in only about one year the transition from the original FTS program to FTS2001, he added.

"The slippage [now] is manageable, but it can't slip any more because there's a running danger of compressing the transition period," he said.

GSA must be careful about further delays with Networx, but the procurement agency has a good handle on the matter, Bardo said, noting that it has multiple, overlapping, competitive contracts as fallbacks to ensure no gaps occur in telecom services occur during the changeover.

Johnson declined to say when GSA would award the Networx contract.
In its October RFI, GSA proposed two multi-award contracts designated universal and select. Universal favors large telecoms with nationwide infrastructures; select is tailored to systems integrators and small companies that could not provide all Networx services to users everywhere.

The universal phase requires ubiquitous service, i.e., all Networx services must be available at all sites where agency employees work.

Although Johnson gave few details about the revised strategy, he said the issue of ubiquity vs. geographical continuity had been resolved and that vendors will provide services only where they are required.

Still at issue is whether the universal and select contracts will be awarded separately or together. GSA originally suggested awarding universal first, followed nine months later by the select contract. Many contractors complained that this plan would put select contractors at a disadvantage. Johnson said the issue has been resolved but declined to provide further details.

Prospective contract bidders also will look for the final list of services and technical requirements. The contract will offer 55 core services, but the number of awards will determine the number of competitors as well as allow for more competitive pricing bids, Suss said. Johnson declined to give more details.

Under the revised strategy, billing requirements have been reduced by nearly 60 percent, Johnson said. Industry had previously complained that the government's billing requirements were too expensive for vendors to incorporate into their proprietary billing systems. "Carrier billing systems are not that flexible" in accommodating the government's requirements for contract line items or different billing codes, Suss said.

Industry also awaits a decision on a minimum revenue guarantee. Under FTS2001, the minimum revenue was fixed at $750 million per contractor. Such guarantees are necessary "to stimulate movement in the marketplace. [Their] absence favors the status quo," Qwest's Bardo said. n

Staff Writer Roseanne Gerin can be reached at rgerin@postnewsweektech.com.

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