Post-FTS politics?

The feverish intensity of the battles surrounding the post-FTS 2000 contracts are a
sure sign of how big the stakes really are.

A new monkey wrench has been thrown into the works. Rep. William Clinger (R-Pa.),
chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, is calling for
three-to-five-year contracts for post-FTS 2000 instead of the planned 10-year deals. His
letter was also signed by Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.), chairman of the Government
Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee.

You can almost hear the lobbying machinery of the long-distance carriers--and the
wannabes--shifting into high gear.

This is a complex issue, all the more so because it has the tinge of politics. Some
insiders are suggesting that Clinger is taking chips off the table in retaliation for
AT&T Corp.'s opposition to the 1996 procurement reforms.

On its face, this is an impossible notion to prove--or disprove. We should all hope it
isn't true, because government contracting should never be used punitively, or, for that
matter, for political reward. Even giant companies have the right to free speech.

Even if it were true, the idea of contracts much shorter than current ones has merit
and is worth discussing.

The telecommunications industry is undergoing tectonic restructuring. The Bell
Atlantic-Nynex and Southern Bell-Pacific Telesis mergers are only the start. Certainly,
the government ought to be able to take advantage of changing conditions, new vendors and
more competition. That ability might be hamstrung by 10-year contracts held by two or
three vendors.

The General Services Administration's original strategy, now shelved, was similar to
that created by the Defense Department for its Defense Information Systems Network: a core
set of contracts for voice with separate vendors handling things like switched data
services and videoconferencing.

But the carriers have a point about risk. Doing GSA telecom business requires a big
investment, all the more risky if there's no mandatory use. And the case can be made that
the periodic price recompetitions and tech refreshment mechanisms keep rates and services
up-to-date and competitive.

GSA doesn't like the idea of short contracts, and it also has a point about the work
involved in contracts of this magnitude. The more time you spend creating and
administering contracts and the services they buy, the less time and product there is over
which to amortize overhead, and the costlier the contracts become.

And anyhow, why did the Hill wait until this late in the game to launch its
three-year-contract blitz? The agency hopes to release final solicitations in August and
award the contract about a year from now.

In the absence of a new law, GSA can do what it wants. Let's hope Federal
Telecommunications Service officials consider the options on their merits, free from

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