Congress pushing Treasury, USDA to push on EIS

NOTE: This article first appeared on FCW.com.

In December, the departments of Treasury and Agriculture got some advice from a handful of lawmakers on how to leverage the General Services Administration's $50 billion, 15-year next-generation telecommunications contract to modernize their operations.

The CIOs at Treasury and USDA received letters from members of the House Financial Services and Agriculture committees urging them to overhaul their telecommunications operations through GSA's Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract. The letters advised the agencies to transform their telecommunications capabilities using EIS, rather than buying "like-for-like" replacements of existing infrastructure.

USDA and the Treasury Department have not yet issued EIS task orders.

On Dec. 5, USDA CIO Gary Washington was sent joint letter from Reps. Tom O'Halleran (R-Ariz.), Cynthia Axne (D-Iowa) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.). On Dec. 6, Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-La.) sent a similar letter to Washington. All four are members of the House Agriculture Committee.

In similar language, both letters urged Washington to use EIS to modernize the agency’s upcoming USDA Universal Telecommunications Network 2020 (UTN2020) contract. Reps. O’Halleran, Axne and Bacon said the EIS "cutting edge" networking capabilities, such as software-defined networking, cloud computing, unified communications and cybersecurity capabilities will reduce costs as much as 20%.

The Nov. 15 letter from House Financial Services Committee member Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) to David Eisner, assistant secretary for management at the Treasury Department, was more direct about using EIS for upgrades.

"As Treasury embarks on its own EIS network modernization effort through TEIS [Treasury Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions], I hope that you will seize the opportunity to modernize and transform your agency's systems and avoid feckless or 'like-for-like' transitions that can be costly while adding little value," he said.

Riggleman also noted the Treasury Department, like many other agencies, had missed GSA's Sept. 30, 2019 deadline for task order awards, forcing GSA to extend the deadline to "accommodate delays in EIS implementation."

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), who also serves on the House Financial Services Committee, mentioned the missed September 2019 deadline in his Dec.18 letter to Eric Olson, Treasury's CIO and deputy assistant secretary for information systems.

TEIS "presents an opportunity for the department to take concrete steps to leverage cutting-edge technology that is widely deployed in the private sector" Emmer wrote.

Industry observers noted that now is a critical time for EIS.

The contract's nine vendors can all now provide service to agencies. They're expecting a busy early 2020, as agencies step up solicitations for the contract. Some industry officials have speculated there could be over 100 solicitations and a dozen contract awards before GSA's March deadline that limits agency access to its existing Networx and regional telecommunications contracts.

"Clearly someone is talking to Congress," said one industry consultant, hoping to goose agencies to take the modernization leap, instead of opting for a "slow roll."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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