Bid deadline for FTS slips to '98

The General Services Administration last week unveiled another round of big changes to
the FTS 2001 solicitation that will push the bid deadline into the new year.


The long-distance telecommunications services buy now has slipped off schedule by more
than six months. The original bid deadline was July 31.


The request for proposals has been on the street since May, but continued complaints
from vendors have dogged the procurement. Since July, GSA had twice moved the proposal
deadline--from July to September, and then from September to this month.


Under GSA's revised deadline schedule, the agency has further pushed back the due date
for technical, management and business proposals to Feb. 15. Price proposals are due March
17. The agency plans to award FTS 2001 contracts by summer.


Final extensions to current long-haul telecommunications contracts, held by AT&T
Corp. and Sprint Corp., expire in mid-1999.


The latest changes respond to vendor complaints that the RFP did not meet federal
requirements that agencies use commercial buying practices. Vendors also demanded that GSA
reduce the number of required services.


But officials from GSA and the Interagency Management Council for Telecommunications
said last week that enough is enough. The proposed amendments are "pretty much
final," said Frank Lalley, chairman of the IMC group, which acts as a board of
directors for the FTS program.


"There will be minor adjustments between now and the time things are settled, but
I would think this is the major, final course correction," said Lalley, associate
deputy assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs for telecommunications.


Robert Woods, GSA's outgoing Federal Technology Service commissioner, told vendors at a
Capitol Hill briefing last week that after considering several thousand comments about the
RFP, the time has come "to get on with this. We have gone through as much listening
as we think we can do."


GSA will reduce the number of services required from 19 to nine core services, with
nine others becoming optional and one for frame relay services becoming a niche service
for hearing-impaired feds.


The RFP's new evaluation plan will embrace best value with an emphasis on cost, Woods
and Lalley said. The lowest priced, technically acceptable bid won't necessarily win, they
said.


In addition, GSA now plans to award two contracts worth $750 million each annually
instead of three awards of roughly $400 million annually. That increases FTS 2001's likely
minimum value from $1 billion to $1.5 billion. Each contract will run for four base years
and have four one-year options.


"I believe the changes will require industry to be as competitive as
possible," Woods said. "I don't think there's any doubt that the expectations of
our customers are that prices are going to be as good or better and services are going to
be as good or better."


GSA officials will meet with prospective bidders soon for one-on-one explanatory
briefings, setting a Nov. 24 deadline for "clarification questions." The agency
will publish responses to questions Dec. 15.


The RFP's new core requirements will likely constitute 95 percent of the likely revenue
to vendors:


Optional services include wireless services, satellite services and value-added
services such as electronic commerce and videoconferencing.


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