GSA weathers knocks on Networx contract

Henrik G. de Gyor GAO's Linda Koontz told Congress the Networx contract has too many uncertainties to move forward with awards in April.

Henrik G. de Gyor

Criticism of the General Services Administration's planning for the Networx telecommunications contract could force the agency to delay the awards beyond their April 2006 schedule.

Testifying at a hearing on Networx March 3 before the House Government Reform Committee, Linda Koontz, the Government Accountability Office's director of information management issues, said GSA has not set the scope of the contracts to be awarded under the Networx program, established criteria for evaluating proposals or determined traffic volumes required by agencies at specific locations.

"These uncertainties represent risks to potential offerers that may, in turn, affect the quality of their proposals, particularly their ability to offer the best prices to the government," Koontz said in her testimony. "In addition, delays in establishing evaluation criteria and traffic volumes could affect GSA's ability to award the contract by April 2006 as planned."

The contract, at minimum, needs more changes, several industry officials told House lawmakers. The agency needs to increase the minimum revenue guarantee for the Enterprise portion to encourage vigorous participation, said Jerry Hogge, senior vice president and general manager, government markets at Level 3 Communications LLC.

Industry needs GSA to release a second set of draft requests for proposals to allow for comment on changes since the November draft RFPs, said Shelley Murphy, vice president of federal sales for Verizon Communications Inc.'s enterprise solutions division.

But GSA wants to issue the final RFPs April 1, and has no intention of veering from that schedule, said Stephen Perry, GSA administrator, who testified at the hearing.

Chaired by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the committee asked GAO to assess the Networx procurement. For its testimony, GAO examined Networx program planning documents, public presentation and comments on GSA's plans. It also reviewed GSA analyses, and interviewed program officials and four vendors that issued comments to GSA, Koontz said.

GSA has not issued information on the estimated scope of Networx that bidders need to estimate their business risks, Koontz said. Federal acquisition rules require indefinite-quantity contracts such as Networx to estimate minimum and maximum levels of goods or services that the government will purchase.

GSA also must finalize the evaluation criteria for the Networx program, according to Koontz.

Not all members of industry called for a delay or believed that GSA had to make significant changes to Networx, however.

Robert Collet, vice president of engineering and chief technology officer of AT&T Government Solutions, said that "GSA got it right" with the procurement. A delayed RFP would result in a loss of the cost-savings that likely would be reaped from the competition for the Networx awards, he said. n

Networx nuts and bolts

The General Services Administration's Networx contract replaces the Federal Telecommunication Service 2001 contract, which expires December 2006, as a vehicle for agencies to buy voice and data services.

Worth up to $20 billion over 10 years, Networx has two parts:

Universal, for full telecommunications services to all government locations nationwide

Enterprise, for specialized, IP services with less-extensive geographic coverage.

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