September 2, 2009
Federal agencies are spending millions of dollars more than necessary on networks and telecommunications because they haven't transitioned to the $68 billion Networx contracts, according to the U.S. government's top IT procurement official.
"We have got to get 100% transition off of FTS2001 to the Networx contract," Ed O'Hare, assistant commissioner for the Federal Acquisition Service's Integrated Technology Services, said in an interview. "For every item not transitioned, we're leaving money on the table. This month we'll be leaving about $20 million in taxpayer money on the table. That's just not right. We have some work to do there." Networx comprise two sets of contracts awarded in 2007 to AT&T, Qwest, Verizon Business, Level 3, and Sprint; they're intended to replace the decade-old FTS2001 contract with services that cost less and offer improved support, new technology, and more choices. Prices under Networx are 10% to 40% cheaper than those under FTS2001 for comparable products and services. Government agencies originally were required to move all services received under FTS2001 to the Networx contracts by mid-2010. Progress has been slow, however, with Networx currently carrying only about 2% of network spending done through the General Services Administration. In a sign of movement, 44% of agencies have gone through the competitive evaluation process and made a vendor selection under Networx, a precursor to making the move. "That tells you that agencies need to actually get in the business of doing the transition,"O'Hare said. The GSA has given agencies a one-year extension to make the switch. O'Hare wants them to hurry it up and says he won't offer another extension. "They say, 'I have plenty of time,'" he said. "No, you don't. We need to get started now." Some agencies are making the switch. NASA recently awarded a $14.2 million contract to Qwest. And, in a $45 million deal, the Department of State has chosen AT&T for managed network services. O'Hare acknowledges that there are barriers to transition. Acquisition personnel are stretched, some agencies need technical support and other assistance to get the ball rolling, and IT leaders are risk-averse when it comes to their networks. Also competing for resources and attention are network initiatives such as IPv6 and the Trusted Internet Connections effort, which aims to rationalize Internet gateways. O'Hare and ITS have begun offering additional technical and acquisition help, and a transition fund to process transactions. "We're going above and beyond," O'Hare said. "If they come to me and ask for it, we will give them assistance."
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