GAO keeps eye on Networx transition

The Government Accountability Office is investigating how agencies and the General Services Administration are handling transition to the Networx telecommunications contract.

"There's a lot of concern about the transition, seeing as we haven't had one for quite some time, and the last one wasn't free of problems by any extent of the imagination," said Linda Koontz, GAO's director of information management issues. Networx is GSA's massive telecommunications contract vehicle for federal agencies, worth an estimated $20 billion over its 10-year life.

Most federal agencies plan to move from the expiring FTS 2001 contracts to Networx for their telecom and network service needs.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) requested the GAO report, which should be completed by the end of June. It will examine whether agencies are following sound transition practices and GSA is encouraging such practices, Koontz said.

A Senate staff member who spoke on condition of anonymity said the senators had requested the report more than a year ago. "There wasn't anything going on in the contract that bothered us," the staffer said. "It was such a massive contract, it was going to be such a massive transition, and we wanted GAO to be there as the first steps were going on."

The most surprising finding to congressional overseers is how slow the contract activity has been, the staffer said. A complicating factor has been the Office of Management and Budget's post-Networx award announcement of its Trusted Internet Connection initiative (TIC) , the staff member added. That led to some agencies pulling back to re-examine their Networx plans to make sure they also complied with TIC, the staffer said.

GSA officials have said the pace of task orders will pick up considerably during the next months, especially as agencies rush to meet a Sept. 30 deadline for choosing a vendor to qualify for GSA reimbursement of some transition costs.

Vendors are also preparing for a rush of Networx task order solicitations. It would be better for everyone involved if agencies did not wait until the last minute to issue a statement of work to vendors, said Diana Gowen, head of Colorado-based Qwest's government services and sales division.

If agencies "continue to procrastinate, there will be a tsunami which none of us can completely deal with," she said, "It would be far better if agencies would be [working] out their requirements so that everybody can respond in a much less stressed environment."

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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