GAO: Networx strategy still risky

The General Services Administration still needs to work on the Networx telecommunications contract to address concerns being raised by the Government Accountability Office, the watchdog agency said.

GAO acknowledged during a congressional hearing earlier this month that GSA has made progress, but concerns remain that make the contract a risky undertaking.

Among those concerns is how GSA will measure the program's performance to make sure the $10 billion contract is accomplishing what it is supposed to.

Networx replaces FTS2001, which expires in 2006. A draft request for proposals is expected in November, with an award to several contractors in April 2006.

"Until GSA develops and applies strategies for addressing the outstanding challenges facing Networx, it risks not being able to deliver all of the operations and cost improvements outlined in the program's goals," said Linda Koontz, GAO's director of information management issues, in testimony before the House Government Reform Committee Sept. 15.

A panel of industry representatives told the committee that GSA is on the right track, but it wants the agency to make more changes, mostly involving expansion of the range of services included in the contract.

GSA has been criticized for what GAO told the committee in February are challenges with the Networx procurement's structure and scheduling, transition planning, service inventories and performance measures.

Questioned by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the committee, on how GSA would ensure a complete transition from FTS2001 to Networx before the new contract is issued, Sandra Bates, commissioner of GSA's Federal Technology Service, defended the agency's efforts.

Government agencies have started working on their service-level inventories and on timelines for their transitions, Bates said. Also, GSA has agreements in place with several carriers to ensure service during the transition from the old contract to the new one, she said.

GAO's Koontz said other federal departments are planning their own telecom-related contracts, which could undermine Networx.

For example, the Treasury Department is reviewing proposals for the 10-year Treasury Communications Enterprise contract for a single, departmentwide network. The Homeland Security, Justice and Treasury departments also are working on the Integrated Wireless Network contract for wireless networks service and support.

"Our position is that anything outside FTS2001 and Networx that's not mandatory" will undermine the telecom services contract, Koontz said. "Only in cases where those contracts are deemed necessary should they be awarded."

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