Looking for trouble

Thomas R. Temin

When it comes to the FTS 2001 program, Congress acts like Chicken Little and thinks the sky is falling.

The rates for long-distance telephone service are certainly falling. They're hovering around 3 cents per minute for agencies that have cut over to FTS 2001.

But to judge from an April hearing of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy, you'd think FTS was a program in deep trouble.

Is it? Officials from FTS 2001's biggest customers, the Treasury and Defense departments, testified they planned for the transition early and suffered no insurmountable problems. For other agencies, the transition was indeed late. Yet even the General Accounting Office found that some causes of delays were beyond the General Services Administration's control: a Verizon Corp. strike, fighting among local exchange carriers and agency lethargy.

Don't forget, FTS 2001'at Congress' prodding and fueled by vendors' lobbying'isn't mandatory, as FTS 2000 was. Even so, a majority of agencies are choosing to use it.

Under questioning, Federal Technology Service commissioner Sandra Bates named $74 million as the price tag for the transition delays. Yet both she and subcommittee chairman Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) must have realized that figure excludes estimated cost savings.

GSA tagged savings last year from FTS 2001's lower prices at $150 million, and estimated the government would achieve $250 million in savings this fiscal year.

Competitors of FTS 2001 contractors Sprint Corp. and WorldCom Inc. like to point out that the longer it takes for the program to pay out the two companies' minimum revenue guarantees, the longer it is taking GSA to open competition to other vendors.

There's plenty of non-FTS telecommunications business out there'the kind that sustained the former MCI Corp. through the drought years of FTS 2000 when AT&T Corp. had the bulk of the government's long-haul business. But there's a good reason the minimums are taking so long to fulfill: The rates are so low.

FTS 2001 has certainly had its share of snafus. But among big federal programs, you can find a lot worse.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: editor@postnewsweektech.com

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