Satcom contract draws Networx vendors

In widening its offerings and customer base to virtually all satellite communication services and all government agencies in their new joint satellite communications contract, the General Services Administration and the Defense Information Systems Agency are also attracting a wider field of vendors.

“We definitely are looking at our opportiunites in pursuing the [Future Commercial SatCom Services Acquisition] contract,” said Susan Zeleniak, group president of Verizon Federal.

The company did not bid on GSA’s SatCom II, awarded in 2007. Among the 15 large businesses and nine small businesses on SatCom II, only one: AT&T is a traditional telco.

“At the time, we felt that we had other vehicles that had satellite services on them, and we would stick with those,” Zeleniak said. “With this one, we’ll examine the opportunities to determine if there’s a place for a non-satellite provider to be competitive in that environment.”

Verizon has broad experience working with satcom technology and providers, Zeleniak said. The company already provides satellite services on multiple vehicles, including GSA’s Networx Enterprise and Universal contracts.

“We find that it often becomes integrated into a network solution,” she said. “If you’re providing international services, satellite is sometimes the best way to provide some connectivity, especially where diversity is required, for emergency backup service, or where getting a landline is too expensive or difficult.” 

One big contract for all

FCSA will be difficult to overlook; its size, scope and structure are unprecedented in federal satcom acquisition.

The 10-year, multiple award schedule and indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract is, according to Karl Krumbholz, GSA director of network services and programs, “anticipated to exceed $5 billion.”

Awards set to begin in the 2nd quarter of 2011, and it will replace three soon-to-expire satcom contracts:

  • GSA’s $750 million, five-year IDIQ SatCom II (expires May 2012), which did $47 million in business in 2008.
  • DISA’s Defense Information Systems Network Satellite Transmission Services-Global (DSTS-G is up for renewal in 2011).
  • DISA’s $1 billion, 10-year, multiple-award IDIQ Inmarsat (expires June 2012) for small business, together had about $350 million in awards.

The contract will be open not only to the federal government — both defense and civilian agencies — but state, local and tribal governments, as well.

With the larger buying pool, said Bruce Bennett, DISA director of satellite communications teleport and service, “we expect to see probably about 10 percent to 15 percent better cost for bulk bandwidth buys than we have in our previous buys just through economies of scale.”

Through its DSTS-G satcom contract, DISA in 2005, for example, negotiated transponder costs of $1.1 million, while the market average was $2.1 million. In that same year, DISA’s costs for commercial satellite communications totaled $330 million for more than 6.4 Ghz of bandwidth.

Growth in demand for commercial satellite bandwidth since 2000 has been “significant,” DISA’s Bennett said. “Every time the administration asked for a surge, that required the appropriate surge in satellite communications. Since there is very little terrestrial based communications in that part of the world, as you know, we have just launched Wideband Global SatCom. That's going to pick up some of the surge that we need but not all of it.”

DOD’s Wideband Global SatCom program, comprising a number of 13-kilowatt spacecraft based on a Boeing Co. commercial satellite, supports warfighting bandwidth needs.

Structurally, the new contract will take “a hybrid approach,” said Edward O’Hare, assistant commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Services, Office of Integrated Technology Services. FCSA will comprise “a schedule contract and then two IDIQs — one for small business and one for the larger companies.”

DISA will be the ordering authority for all Defense Department orders. However, explained Kathleen Miller, DISA director for procurement, “DOD is going to have decentralized ordering authority from GSA, so we will continue supplying the warfighter needs the same way we always have.”

GSA will administer the schedule 70 contracts and IDIQ contracts in three service areas:
  • Transponder capacity;
  • Subscription services such as pre-existing pre-engineered fixed satellite service or mobile satellite service solutions; and
  • End-to-end solutions comprising custom engineered solutions.

Tech, cost changes

“Satellite is going through a major transformation — from telephony-based satellites to network-based satellites,” DISA’s Bennett said. And that “is causing a certain amount of infrastructure changes.

In the short time since SatCom II’s inception, not only the technology but also the whole communications environment have changed, Verizon’s Zeleniak added. “From everything we’ve seen here,” she said, speaking from GSA’s Network Services Conference in Chicago, “that’s clearly where customers are moving: toward end-to-end solutions and end-to-end services, not toward buying pieces that government then has to put together.”

Satellite-agnostic integrators can select services and capacity from multiple vendors to present agencies with seamless solutions.

When, for example, a single satcom provider is unable to provide the coverage or redundancy needed, an integrator can ease communications headaches, Zeleniak said. The ability to integrate multiple components, services and providers to “present the customer with what looks like a single solution is a lot of the value that we bring,” she said.

The expanded number of providers will also benefit DOD, Bennett said. “What it does is give people options,” he said. The DSTS-G contract is held by only three vendors; “this will open it up. We’re also looking at core competencies; now we have to go to one of the three DSTS-G vendors for all of our needs, whether it’s in their core competency or not.”

Further savings will be generated all around by consolidating the procurement process. “By joining together,” said GSA’s Krumbholz, “we’re saving the government money because we're not doing the same thing twice, not staffing [the procurement] twice, not to mention industry doesn't have to respond once to DISA and once to GSA.”

Not all Networx contract holders will pursue a spot on FCSA; Sprint’s federal team is not looking at this opportunity, a spokesperson said.

“But I think there’s strong reason to believe that we’ll participate in this competition,” Zeleniak said. 

FCSA timetable

Fiscal 2010, Q2 — Draft IDIQ requests for proposal
Fiscal 2011, Q2 — Initial Schedule 70 awards
Fiscal 2011, Q4 — IDIQ awards

Source: General Services Administration

About the Author

Sami Lais is a special contributor to Washington Technology.

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