Next generation telecom RFP a test of GSA’s listening skills

The request for proposals for the next generation telecommunications services arrived as promised by the General Services Administration on Oct. 16. What GSA hopes now happens is a growing list of vendors are taking a deep dive into the solicitation to see how well the agency listened and incorporated lessons learned from the arduous Networx contract. The transition to Networx from FTS-2001 lasted 33 months longer than initially expected and cost the government about $400 million more than it budgeted for.

Over the last year or so, GSA has hit all the right notes with industry and agency customers—asking and listening to how best to develop the main contract called Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) under the Network Services 2020 (NS2020) umbrella. EIS is a 15-year contract with a ceiling of $50 billion.

Two of the main points of contention were the need for more competition and to make the contract easier to use.

We may not know if they’ve met those goals for several years as the current Networx contract doesn’t expire until 2020 and transition is set to begin in 2017.

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Agencies still are buying off the Networx contract. There still are 15 open solicitations under Networx for a variety of services, including cybersecurity services for GSA and the Homeland Security Department, and dark fiber-unused fiber optic lines–for the Vermont Army National Guard, and agencies spent more than $1.5 billion on the contract in 2014.

A key measurement of GSA’s success will be if its gets more than the five big telecommunication vendors—AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, Sprint and Level-3–to submit bids. GSA hopes companies such as Harris Communications, Hughes Network Systems and even integrators such as Lockheed Martin to put their hats in the ring.

“This is the culmination of an extensive and successful collaborative process between GSA, federal agencies, and industry which lasted more than two years and provided GSA with valuable feedback that helped us build and refine the RFP,” said Mary Davie, GSA assistant commissioner of the Integrated Technology Services office in a release. “We believe the EIS RFP achieves the appropriate balance between industry’s goals and capabilities, GSA’s objectives, and federal agency’s current and future needs.”

In the 251-page statement of work, GSA details four mandatory services: virtual private network service, Ethernet transport service, voice and managed network service. GSA says all other offerings are optional, and it recognizes the changing nature of technological and user requirements and encourages vendors to incorporate upgrades and innovations into their offerings.

GSA is giving agencies until Jan. 15 to respond to the RFP, which seems like an incredible amount of time, but given the complexity of the requirements, don’t be surprised to see dozens of questions and at least one extension of the due date.

“The overarching goal for EIS is to make the resulting contracts as flexible and agile as possible to meet and satisfy the widely differing requirements of the federal agencies both now and for the next decade and beyond,” GSA said in the statement of work. “The goal of the NS2020 Strategy is to become the federal government’s strategic sourcing center for network-based and network-enabled services. The EIS acquisition is the foundation for implementing this strategy.”

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