As if the transition to the Networx telecommunications contract wasn’t difficult enough, the Office of Management and Budget is giving agencies another set of priorities and deadlines.
Agencies by Jan. 31, 2011 must have all external Internet connections behind a Managed Trusted IP Services (MTIPS) access point. MTIPS will standardize security of Internet gateways under the Trusted Internet Connections initiative.
This is one of three deadlines OMB mandated in a May 12 memo from Mike Howell, the deputy administrator for e-government and information technology.
Agencies were supposed to have picked their MTIPs vendors by June 1, but industry and government sources say it’s unlikely many, if any, agencies met that deadline.
“There hasn’t been a lot of movement because AT&T is the only certified MTIPS provider and agencies seem to be reluctant to choose their provider without more choices,” says a government official, who requested anonymity because they didn’t get permission to talk about the subject.
Repeated requests to OMB asking how many agencies met the deadline were not returned. A request to the General Services Administration, which runs the Networx contract, also was not returned.
Most of the large agencies, such as the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, will implement MTIPS without the assistance of one of the four Networx vendors.
But several mid-size agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agency for International Development and the Federal Trade Commission, and all of the small agencies will depend on the vendors to protect their Internet gateways.
“We have been talking TIC for two years in the government and the government’s environment needs to get themselves protected,” says Diana Gowen, senior vice president and general manager for Qwest Government Services. “OMB required the big agencies have a play in front of them two years ago and finally OMB has drawn a line in the sand and said by end of this year ‘you guys need to be in TIC environment.’ I hope we will see that causes some energy because before this there was not a lot of energy to do this.”
Qwest along with Sprint and Verizon likely will join AT&T later this summer as a provider of MTIPS services. Gowen says Qwest received the initial authority to operate and expects to receive final approval in about a month.
Verizon also received GSA’s approval of its certification and accreditation documentation and expects the authority to operate will come in July, says Stefanie Scott, a company spokeswoman.
“In the meantime we continue to meet with customers to discuss the TIC and to respond to Networx fair opportunities for MTIPS and work with our customers to understand how they can acquire and implement an MTIPS solution that will meet government deadlines,” she says.
GSA says Sprint also is just one step away from receiving its ATO. At the Network Services Conference in June, GSA officials predicted that Qwest, Verizon and Sprint would receive their ATOs by Sept. 15, Oct. 18 and Oct. 19, respectively, according to industry sources who attended the conference.
The fifth Networx vendor, L-3, didn’t submit a proposal to be a MTIPS provider.
Even if all four companies receive their ATOs by August, it may not be in enough time to meet OMB’s third deadline in the memo. By Aug. 31, agencies must place their MTIPS orders with their selected vendor. OMB says orders placed after Aug. 31 will not be eligible to qualify for coverage of the transition costs by GSA.
Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting, says there are two main challenges around MTIPS.
“One is agencies have a lot on their plate in terms of getting through the Networx transition and that has been their highest priority,” he says. “MTIPS adds another issue and I’m not sure whether they can handle both items as top priorities.”
“MTIPS is not an inexpensive service,” Suss says. “It’s a complex service and carriers have spent a lot of money getting ready to provide these services so they are charging what they need to charge. I believe you will find compared to basic Internet connectivity, MTIPS cost about double. Agencies are going to need to deal with budget impact on moving to MTIPS.”
Suss says OMB should shoulder much of the blame for how slow both Networx and especially MTIPS are going.
He says the transition to Networx has sped up over the last six months or so, but MTIPS is a perfect example of what not to do.
“It strikes me that GSA is doing everything they can do and everything they need to do to comply with the OMB mandate,” he says. “And the carriers in good faith have bellied up to the bar and invested tens of millions of dollars to make it happen, but in the end the pressure is on the agencies, which are in tight budget situation and are limited in terms of staff time to comply with this requirement. If agencies are not able to do it, to me it’s also a question of what will happen next time OMB imposes a requirement on agencies and the next time they ask industry to make big up front investments with no assured return.”
He says it isn’t clear if OMB didn’t do a good job thinking out or making the business case for TIC.
Gowen says once agencies make their decisions, becoming TIC compliant isn’t overly complex. She says it should take between 30-and-60 days, and involves connecting the agency to the carrier’s network and running all inbound and outbound Web traffic through the access point.
“TIC looks at the agency’s firewall policy, does the packet or e-mail meet those policies and then passes the traffic to the government’s Einstein monitoring system,” Gowen says. “Einstein does what it does and then it goes to the greater Internet or onto the agency network. By the time it hits the greater Internet or onto the agency network, we’ve looked at the traffic to make sure there are no viruses or other bad things in it.”
Overall, agencies are making more progress transitioning to Networx. GSA reports about 60 percent of all circuits have moved from FTS2001. This is an increase of 20 percent since March.
At a recent House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the delay in transitioning to Networx, GSA said they were open to the idea of extending the FTS2001 contract beyond June 2011.
Gowen says Qwest still is seeing a trickle of statements of work. She estimates about 35 percent of all agencies still have not make final decisions on voice, video or data services.
“At this point of the network transition, there is just the basic blocking and tackling that is required,” Suss says. “Everyone knows the drill. There are not a lot of big surprises. Really the issue has as much to do with resources and focusing agency attention as much as anything else.”
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