Post-FTS 2000 RFP won't be out until Nov.

It will be at least mid- to late November before the General Services Administration
releases the solicitation for the Post-FTS 2000 procurement, the agency's top
telecommunications executive has predicted.


"We haven't settled exactly when it's all going to come out," Robert J.
Woods, commissioner of GSA's Federal Telecommunications Service, told GCN last week. Woods
said GSA is still talking with the Hill, the White House and others about the terms of the
request for proposals, which once was scheduled for release this week.


Woods said GSA is trying to avoid driving agencies away from a post-FTS 2000 deal with
higher prices. He said several agencies, which he would not name, already have told the
Interagency Management Council they would bolt from a post-FTS 2000 network that had a
too-short lifespan or unfavorable pricing.


"The answer is, you can't compete in a non-mandatory environment with high prices
and multiple transitions," Woods said. "I'm a pretty good salesman, but I don't
think I can sell that.'


Asked if the delay in issuing the RFP for the estimated $20 billion procurement was a
bow to congressional critics who charged that GSA was moving too quickly, Woods demurred.


"We've been at this for four years," he said. "I don't think that's
blinding speed. We have to acknowledge there are new competitors coming into the
market."


FTS deputy commissioner John L. Okay said, "We're searching for a middle ground
that provides more competition," which might include letting local exchange companies
bid on the deal. But Okay said the local service providers would have to "give us a
definitive answer" as to when they'd be prepared to compete for the government's
long-distance business.


The RFP "probably will make everyone a little unhappy, which means we've reached a
reasonable compromise," Okay said.


Unlike delays with the FTS 2000 long-haul procurement a decade ago, congressional
sources have hailed this postponement as both a recognition of the rapidly changing
telecommunications landscape and a chance for GSA "to get it right," as one Hill
aide said.


GSA is taking the extra time for closer study of several alternatives to FTS
2000-style, in which the government's telecom business was divided between AT&T Corp.
and Sprint Corp.


Following the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the industry landscape is undergoing
tectonic shifts as local and regional telephone companies move into long-distance service
while AT&T, MCI Communications Corp., cable television providers and others angle for
local exchange service.


The new landscape is a far cry from the stratified environment GSA dealt with 10 years
ago in the FTS 2000 buy. Vendors and legislators are pushing the agency to craft an RFP
with a broader vision than any previously imagined.


"We would like to be a supplier" on a post-FTS 2000 contract, BellSouth
spokesman Bill McCloskey said. "We have long said the government would get a better
range of bids if it waited until competition starts."


Dick Coyle, director of strategic business development for Sprint Government Systems in
Herndon, Va., said the RFP delay--which he expects to last well into the fall--won't
necessarily derail the next iteration of federal telecom procurements.


He said it's still possible for GSA to stick to a December 1998 transition from FTS
2000 services to the new contract, if there's an effective, clear, logical RFP as a result
of the delay.


Coyle said GSA's most recent study of FTS 2000 claimed savings of more than 17 percent
over open-market prices, and that kind of savings could and should be maintained in the
future.


AT&T's federal spokeswoman declined comment on the delay.


On Capitol Hill, reaction to the move was positive. A staff member on the House
Government Reform and Oversight Committee said the GSA delay "is what we wanted them
to do," especially if it enables other vendors to bid for post-FTS 2000 business.


"If GSA needs a little more time to accommodate new vendors, that's good,"
said the staff member, who asked not to be identified.


Cathy Guest, a spokeswoman for the Senate Governmental Affairs oversight subcommittee,
said the chairman, Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Maine), "thinks the delay is fine as long
as it doesn't delay the change in contracts past December 1998."


Guest said the delay may help in the long run by enabling GSA to issue a better RFP.


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