GSA's local phone service program bogged down

GSA's local phone service program bogged down

By William Jackson

GCN Staff

JUNE 15—The General Services Administration's Metropolitan Area Acquisition program is saving the government $1 million a month through more competitive prices for local phone service. But start-up delays are jeopardizing the targeted savings of $1.1 billion over eight years, witnesses told a congressional panel Wednesday.

The House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy held the hearing on MAA progress. Linda Koontz, director of information management issues at the General Accounting Office, testified GSA had fallen far behind in its goal of moving millions of local phone lines in 38 metropolitan areas to the new contracts.

Sandra Bates, commissioner of GSA's Federal Technology Service, which administers the MAA contracts, said the program was more complex than anticipated.

'We really are plowing new ground,' Bates said. 'Competition in the local market is new.'

Subcommittee chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) said GSA had overextended its capabilities with the MAA program. 'I think one of the problems we've had is that we've set unrealistically high expectations and time schedules,' he said.

MAA contractors complained of complicated GSA procedures and of not being able to market directly to customer agencies. But their biggest complaint was not being allowed to modify contracts to offer long-distance service under the FTS 2001 program.

Like other MAA contractors, Qwest Communications International Inc. of Denver signed on with the expectation it could also provide long-distance service, said James F.X. Payne, senior vice president for government systems. More than a year after entering the program, he said, no crossovers have occurred.

'This is not the deal Qwest signed up for,' Payne said.

Koontz said it is too early to fix blame for the delays. 'If it turns out to be anything like FTS 2001, there will be plenty of blame to go around,' she said.

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