Another View | Agencies must begin planning for FTS 2001

There is some controversy in the federal information
technology arena regarding whether agencies are ready to make the transition from the FTS
2000 contracts to the pending FTS 2001 ones.


Now that the General Services Administration has released its solicitation for the FTS
2001 worldwide long-distance telecommunications service, Dennis Fischer, commissioner of
GSA’s Federal Technology Service, is exhorting agencies to get on the stick with
their preparations for switching over to the resulting, nonmandatory contracts. The
existing nationwide contracts expire in December.


Even with the encouragement, some agencies are uncertain that they should move so
rapidly to the new contracts.


FTS 2001 could cost the government as much as $8 billion over the eight-year life of
the contracts. Yet this represents a real savings over existing contracts, even when
telecom use is increasing.


The FTS program provides government users with cost-effective and efficient
telecommunications services. FTS 2001 is only one of many comm programs and acquisition
activities.


FTS 2001 may become the most wrangled-over, talked-through and hammered-out program in
history. The solicitations came after many months of extensive conferences, information
exchanges and hearings involving Congress, agencies, industry and GSA itself. Talks
spanned the terms of three succeeding FTS commissioners. The solicitations were
market-driven, maximizing the use of private-sector services and infrastructure, to
provide agency users with maximum flexibility in selecting services tailored to their
needs. GSA wants there to be a structured transition service between telecommunications
networks.


The scope of each new contract will include all telecom services, technology
enhancements and service improvements necessary to satisfy federal needs.


The agency’s Interagency Management Council for Telecommunications subsequently
formed a transition workgroup to plan the transition and to identify steps that agencies
and vendors must take so that nobody misses a phone call some Monday morning.


FTS is even using cooperative purchasing. Each FTS 2001 contract will be available for
use by all federal agencies and also authorized federal contractors, agency-sponsored
universities and laboratories, and other organizations authorized by law or regulation.


Part of FTS’ future hinges on Internet use, which is growing at a tremendous pace
in government programs. The business community and individuals are embracing the
technology, too, partly to maintain pace with government service delivery. Low-cost
service is key to continued growth in information exchange through telecom.


What are some features of FTS 2001?


Messaging is an important one. Messaging makes use of advances in voice and data
technologies to provide an integrated system for voice, e-mail and fax.


Security is integral to the new FTS contracts. GSA requested a way to ensure users are
who they claim to be. A public key infrastructure would protect government data posted on
the Internet from invasion, as do private sector efforts to implement simple, secure
methods of authenticating users, especially in electronic commerce transactions.


All the necessary pieces of the machinery are in place. So why the agency hesitation?


For one thing, agencies face a task that is even more pressing than adjusting to their
next telecom contracts: solving the year 2000 software problem. Many managers ask
themselves, “Do we transition to FTS 2001 and work on year 2000 simultaneously, or
wait for year 2000 to settle, then worry about transition?”


Apparently the FTS vendors won’t have a year 2000 problem of their own. Network
companies—more than 100 of which are expected to compete—say they are ready for
the 2000 date problem. Code embedded in switches and application code for various business
functions such as for billing and receivables has already been upgraded, according to a
spokesperson from one long-distance carrier.


And make no mistake. Transition is a complex and uncertain process. Serious doubts
exist about the government’s ability to manage it while repairing systems for 2000.
It’s enough to ensure stability of existing programs that are being modified.


Moreover, transition will be costly no matter when agencies do it, although the money
ought to be available if special appropriations for year 2000 work come through under
emergency spending.


The following table shows the anticipated spending, in millions, for telecom transition
for the top IT-spending departments, and the percentage of their total IT services budget
that the transition represents:


FTS Percent of
transition IT services
Department
Defense  $1,690  12.3
Commerce $153  7.6
Agriculture $237  6.2
Justice $318  6.0
Energy $708  5.9
Transportation  $254  5.4
Education  $410  5.2
HHS $810  4.4
Veterans Affairs $219  3.9
Treasury $598  3.3

Source: Office of Federal Procurement Policy and  Market
Access International


The Defense Department, excluding the armed forces, is the largest spender for
telecommunications services, but it also leads in anticipated transition costs as a
percentage of its total IT services costs.


Agencies such as the Census Bureau, Social Security Administration, Veterans Affairs
Department, Health Care Financing Administration and the IRS, not to mention the Financial
Management Service, are among those that provide services directly to citizens. They
depend on state-of-the-art telecommunications support. Delayed transition to FTS 2001
would reduce their effectiveness.


Budgets are ready. Money is available. Government can’t benefit from FTS 2001
without implementation.


Robert Deller is president of Market Access International Inc., an information
technology market research, sales and support company in Chevy Chase, Md. His e-mail
address is bdeller@markess.com.

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