GCN Editorial: Stop bellyaching

The government telephone service sweepstakes is getting
downright nasty--and complicated. Why?

First, a lot of business is at stake. Second, "telephone'' really means more than
a dozen discrete communications services, all with different market dynamics. Third, the
telecom industry itself is in turmoil. Vendors are throwing billions on this bet or that,
yet they don't really know how the next five or 10 years are going to shape up. They are
anxious about the future.

Nowhere was this more evident than at a recent forum conducted in Washington by the
Interagency Management Council. FTS 2000 program officials asked vendors for their
opinions of the strategy for contracts that will succeed those in the current FTS 2000.
The council is advising the General Services Administration on the procurement.

The main vendor argument says that by not offering mandatory use and guaranteed minimum
volumes of business, the government can't expect to receive the lowest prices for service.
And vendors don't like the idea of competing contracts, from which agencies could
"cherry pick" services and prices.

Some vendors have threatened to not bid or have warned the government to expect fewer
bids. Others said that no governmentwide strategy for telecommunications is preferable to
the so-called PF2K strategy.

What's going on here sounds like an effort to bully the government into giving the
vendors what they want. Based on their testimony, what they want seems to be either a
winner-take-all sweepstakes with mandatory use like FTS 2000, or nothing, where each
agency goes out and gets the best deal for itself.

There is merit to the idea of a minimum level of guaranteed business, and GSA officials
concede that point. Even without a mandatory use provision, says Bob Woods, the associate
GSA commissioner for FTS, the vendors still will need a reasonable assurance. That means
GSA would have to sell the new contracts to the agencies.

As for the cherry-picking notion, it's difficult to see how bidding for every service
in every agency in the absence of PF2K would be preferable.

Perhaps by trying a hybrid approach, GSA and the IMC please none of the vendors. But
the purpose of PF2K isn't to stroke telecommunication giants and systems integrators. It's
to get a good deal for the government.

Assuming the GSA officials can come up with a reasonable guarantee of volume, the
vendors should stop the bellyaching and get back to business.

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