Can you hear the savings now?

GSA to create commodity buying vehicle for wireless devices, services

The General Services Administration wants agencies to save at least 30 percent to 42 percent on the federal government's wireless bills with a new contract for managed wireless services to be awarded in January.

The procurement is part of the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative, a mandate by the Office of Management and Budget to use common procurement vehicles for certain commodity products such as copiers, domestic delivery services, IT hardware and office supplies. These contracts will let agencies cut costs when buying through managed services providers and more efficiently control their inventories.

GSA officials could not put a value on the wireless devices and services contract, because they don't know what the volume and prices would be if participating agencies buy under it. Neither market analysts nor government officials know how much money the government spends on wireless devices and services annually.

The ill-defined scope of the market makes it difficult to pinpoint wireless spending specifics, said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer of FedSources Inc.

At the agencies, no one knows "who's ordering what, who's doing this to that or anything," said Paulette Gemmer, a program manager in GSA's Federal Technology Service. "It's really unmanaged, and that's where we are spending way too much money on wireless services in the government. We need to get a handle on this."

Task orders at hand

GSA will not make small-business set-aside awards, but expects, wherever possible, to issue task order contracts to 8(a) companies, government officials said at an Oct. 3 briefing on the initiative, hosted by the Industry Advisory Council's shared interest group on networks and telecommunications. Large companies would not be excluded, they said.

GSA plans to issue the final statement of objectives this month and make the initial awards for managed services in January, officials said.

Under the wireless device and services initiative, participating agencies also would be able to buy mobile phones, BlackBerrys, personal digital assistants and related services through a volume purchase program.

Awardees, the managed services providers, will negotiate prices directly with wireless service companies and furnish agencies with services to manage their wireless devices. The service providers also will be responsible for compiling quarterly reviews on the agencies' purchase of handheld devices and wireless usage, and for doing technology refreshes.

According to GSA's Sept. 5 draft statement of objectives, the contract would be for one year with four one-year options. Agencies that use this vehicle can save at least 30 percent to 42 percent over what the government spends, FTS' Gemmer said. The estimate is based on savings reaped by the Homeland Security Department and the Transportation Security Administration from their managed services programs.

Cause for concern

Industry members at the event were concerned primarily with how the wireless contract would fit with GSA's $20 billion, governmentwide Networx contract for telecom services to be awarded in March and May, and whether the wireless device contract would duplicate procurement efforts under Networx.

Members of IAC's shared interest group on networks and telecommunications want GSA to explain how this initiative would complement Networx, said Tony Bardo, the group's chairman.

"A great deal of effort went into Networx, thinking that's the way the government's going to buy these services," he said. "Now you have this other initiative, and it's the same agency, so there's natural interest in sorting it out."

The FSSI initiative focuses on managed services and is based on labor hours, while Networx focuses on provisioning services, said Mary Davie, GSA's assistant commissioner for customer accounts and research in the new Federal Acquisition Service. Davie, who heads the agency's Strategic Sourcing Initiative, also stressed that OMB is driving the effort.

"We're just trying to set up multiple ways for agencies to buy their requirements, and we've done that," she said.

GSA has a two-part strategy for the wireless devices and services procurement, FTS' Gemmer said. The first part is to have agencies work with providers to come up with accurate inventories of government's devices and services. The second is to offer managed services for wireless. Savings from the inventory cleanup likely will materialize within three to six months, she said.

GSA's initial estimate for orders placed under the handheld wireless-devices procurement is 200,000, but that number could reach as high as approximately 2.7 million ? the number of federal employees ? if all agencies participate, Gemmer said.

GSA will hold another industry day about the initiative in Arlington, Va., she said, although she did not yet know the date.

In June, GSA met with the federal government's three big providers of wireless services, Cingular Wireless LLC, Sprint-Nextel Corp. and Verizon Wireless Inc., to brief them and win their support for the program, Gemmer said. The government procurement agency wants the wireless providers to help agencies complete inventories before they buy devices and services under the new contract, she said.

The questions and concerns raised at the briefing by industry members, which included employees from the three wireless carriers, indicated that not all of industry is sold on the idea yet, Bardo said.

GSA in late July issued a sources-sought notice for the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative for wireless devices and services and got 23 responses, Gemmer said.
On Sept. 5, GSA issued a draft statement of objectives for comments and feedback.

Responses were due by Sept. 26, but GSA was still accepting industry comments after the date, Gemmer said. As of Oct. 3, GSA had received 15 replies. The Agriculture Department has volunteered to be first to buy wireless handheld devices and services under the procurement, she said.

"We believe that agencies will continue to join as we start to have some real successes and show some real concrete approaches to what we're doing," she said. A real-life demonstration of the procurement's value will be the more effective persuader, she said, "more so than just talking and formulating."

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

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