Treasury, DHS anxious for start of Networx

The Treasury and Homeland Security departments likely will be the first customers out of the gate when the General Services Administration awards its $20 billion Networx telecommunications contract.

"As far as we know, those are the first two," said Karl Krumbholz, GSA's Networx program managers, at a transition summit Jan. 30.

For Treasury, getting an early jump on the transition to Networx was part of a memorandum of understanding it signed in December with GSA, Krumbholz said. In the MOU, GSA agreed to let Treasury place orders within 30 days of Networx's award. In exchange, Treasury agreed to cancel its controversial Treasury Communications Enterprise contract, which was worth about $1 billion.

The 10-year, $20 billion Networx contract is divided into two segments ? Networx Universal, to be awarded in March, and Networx Enterprise, awarded in May. Bidders on Universal, which covers nationwide services include major national carriers: AT&T Inc., MCI Inc., Qwest Communications International Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp.

All of those companies and Level 3 Communications Inc. of Broomfield, Colo., are bidding on Enterprise, which is for more niche communications services,
DHS also has told GSA that it intends to place orders within a month of the Networx contract award, Krumbholz said. He was not aware of any other agency looking to join Treasury and DHS in taking the lead on orders.

"Most of the agencies, in their participation in the transition working group, have said they want to wait for both contracts so they can compare and contrast both Enterprise and Universal and make their decisions based on all of the information," Krumbholz said.

As part of an effort to avoid the transition delays that plagued FTS 2001, the contract Networx replaces, GSA plans to test and certify contractors' functions before orders can be processed. Functions such as billing, inventory and security will be included in the testing. A testing status Web site will be running in March, so agencies and contractors can keep abreast of results.

The security testing alone could take three to five months, given the extensive requirements in that area, officials said. Contractors will have to provide information on system boundaries, types of applications and number of servers, among other things.

Ensuring that all this testing and certification goes smoothly will be no small feat, officials said.

"Our challenge is to make sure there are no hold-ups. That's going to take a cooperative effort between the industry and government teams," Krumbholz said.

A GSA Transition Coordination Center will be operating by March to help resolve potential problems.

Mark Tarallo is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.

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