What's wrong with GSA NS2020?

GSA's NS2020 should improve the way the government acquires communications and IT infrastructure services, but early reviews are mixed about the program. RASA Consulting president and CEO Rick Slifer explains what the problem is, and what the community needs to do to fix it.

The General Services Administration (GSA) strategy to improve the way government acquires communications and information technology infrastructure services, otherwise known as Network Services 2020, or NS2020, should blaze a trail for all agencies – not just in communications infrastructure, but also next generation procurement approaches. Sadly, early reviews are mixed, and some interested bidders are worried that GSA’s approach could result in a “back to the future” program that falls short on its stated goals.

A Primer on NS2020

The new strategy is meant to serve as the transition service between Regional Local Service Agreements (LSA) and the Washington Integrated Telecommunications Service (WITS) 3 contract that will expire over the next three years, and the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) program that is set to replace Networx in 2017. The resulting contract is intended to serve as the strategic umbrella for ‘one-stop-shopping’ for all GSA telecommunications and IT infrastructure offerings, with several main goals in mind:

  • Reduce acquisition costs
  • Diversify purchasing capabilities
  • Improve agility and flexibility
  • Establish an Everything over IP (EIOP) environment
  • Facilitate ease of transition to EIS

The strategy has also established three regional procurements that will be responsible for filling in when current LSAs expire between 2015 and 2017, including the Northeast Infrastructure Solutions (NIS), Central Infrastructure Solutions (CIS) and Western Infrastructure Solutions (WIS).

As NS2020 takes over as the main strategy driver, it will prepare federal agencies for what is to come with EIS and the related ‘super’ regional programs named above. In today’s increasingly digital world, workers have become more mobile and their tools more cloud-based. As employees require more IP-based capabilities to ensure on-the-go connectivity and access to secure cloud-based applications, EIS will address this need by focusing largely on IP-based solutions for the federal government.

Market research for NS2020 has been in process since 2012, and has included stakeholder interviews, market trend analysis and best practice identification. With this time spent planning, it is logical to think that the new program strategy would address the shortcomings of the current Networx strategy and work to reform acquisition processes as agencies evolve to solutions-based buying.  Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

The NIS SOW Conundrum

With fiscal year 2015 (FY2015) now underway, the NS2020 strategy will continue to inch forward towards full implementation. In the coming year, each regional procurement will come forward with a Request for Information (RFI) and Statement of Work (SOW). The first to initiate this process was NIS, which issued two preliminary documents earlier this year – an RFI and draft document for industry comment. Compiling this information, GSA’s National Capital Region (NCR) released the draft SOW for NIS in June 2014 – but this release has created much confusion in comparison to NIS’s very strategic RFI, released in December 2013.

The NIS SOW is meant to replace the WITS 3 contract and, eventually, all the LSA’s in the northeastern part of the country. Ironically, the NIS draft SOW looks like a near replica of the WITS 3 contract instead of one that addresses new requirements. In fact, it actually appears to contradict the NS2020 strategy by replicating the acquisition strategy and organizational structure of WITS 3. So, the real question is, why would GSA go through all this effort to establish a new organizational structure, including super regions and more central office control, only to issue what appears to be a bridge contract from the previous structure, WITS 3? 

Normally, to answer this question, we would look to the SOW itself to find the answer. Regrettably, the NIS SOW leaves few clues to the recurring question in our industry: Why? The document only includes one section (Section C), which addresses the descriptions, specifications and work statements. It leaves out completely the sections that address billing, instructions, reporting and other information (Sections B, G, J, L and M) that could have helped shed some light on the matter for the technologists that execute on these contracts.   

Moving Forward

Industry groups and their members are looking for clues and engaging GSA in productive dialogue that, if considered, will get the NIS and the NS2020 program back on track with its intended strategy. TechAmerica and the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) have both reached out independently to GSA, hoping to get some clarity on the NIS SOW. [EDITOR'S NOTE: This portion of the column has been corrected to clarify that TechAmerica and ACT-IAC are not working together on NS2020, given the distinct nature of the two groups. Click here for a letter to the editor from ACT-IAC.]

The role of trailblazer is a comfortable one for GSA, and the NS2020 team is undoubtedly doing great work to address the needs of a more modern, mobile federal government. But we need to be doing more to make sure that all stakeholders are on the same page.  As we move forward, we need to ensure that industry experts are all in agreement to expending significant capital – up to $500 million with Networx – to retool global networks and embrace an all-IP infrastructure with modern fiber or wireless transport.

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