Final Networx RFPs will come in May, not April

Requests for proposals for the FTS Networx contract, multibillion-dollar telecommunications and data services deal, are delayed until May following a change of heart at the General Services Administration.

Agency officials today said they are modifying the vendor requirements for billing, reporting and verification of operational support systems. This is despite telling lawmakers at a hearing earlier this month that the 2,500 comments the agency received on the draft Networx request for proposals would initiate no major changes to the upcoming final RFPs.

These changes will delay the release of the final RFPs until the first week of May instead of early April, said John Johnson, assistant commissioner for service development and delivery at GSA's Federal Technology Service. Vendors also will have until early August instead of July to put forward their proposals.

"These comments preceded the hearing Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) held March 3, and we've been working on them for quite some time," Johnson said during a briefing, referring to a hearing on Networx held by the House Government Reform Committee. "We've adopted about 40 percent of the comments, and we think we've made significant changes to the Networx RFP."

Johnson said GSA hoped that the delaying the RFPs would not affect the service transition period from the FTS 2001 telecom contract, which expires in 2006, to Networx.

The Networx procurement, the largest telecommunications contract in the history of the federal government, could be worth up to $20 billion. GSA plans to issue two RFPs, one for Universal services and one for Enterprise services. The Universal part will provide government locations with a broad range of telecom services nationwide. The Enterprise part will offer a mix of specialized Internet protocol or wireless services in specific geographical areas. The contracts are to be awarded in April 2006.

At the hearing, GSA officials said the comments did not raise any major concerns with the approach it was taking.

A Government Reform Committee spokesman reacted to GSA's changes with optimism.

"We're glad to see that GSA is taking advantage of the wealth of information that has been made available to it throughout the comment and discussion process and through the Government Reform hearings," said Drew Crockett, a committee spokesman. "It is crucial for GSA to design and implement this program properly. It is more important for GSA to do this right than to do it on schedule. Timeliness is important; doing it right is imperative."

Johnson said GSA has been working with industry and agencies to prepare the final RFPs, and the agency listened to their concerns. The changes include:

?Reducing the requirements for plans, reports and data to a minimum number to evaluate proposals, track contractor performance and manage the contracts

?Reducing the number of billing elements to 119 from the 513 in the draft request for information.

?Reducing the number of metrics and streamlined reports to 103 from 165

?Reducing the requirements for operational support systems verification, which support the transition process.

GSA also is conducting a quality review to make sure the changes are consistent throughout the RFPs and supporting documents, Johnson said.

The numbers of billing elements and the how many reports GSA demanded have been major sticking points for industry throughout the process. Johnson said the changes should help alleviate these concerns.

"Of the 119 billing elements, 97 are commercial standards and only 22 are government unique," Johnson said.

He said that of the 103 reports, 13 are due when the vendor submits its proposal, 12 are for customer agencies to decide if they want them, 23 are triggered by a change in the infrastructure made by the vendor, and 33 are due when a task order is received.

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