DISA ponders second set of DREN bids

DISA ponders second set of DREN bids

The Defense Information Systems Agency is still reviewing the second set of bids for a controversial network contract to add advanced fiber-optic services to the Defense Research and Engineering Network.

The continued presence of Global Crossing Ltd. in the running for the contract has prompted discussion among competitors that DISA has slanted the competition toward the struggling Bermuda company, despite its financial woes.

'There is speculation in the industry that the government is inclined to award it to Global Crossing,' said Ray Bjorklund, vice president of Federal Sources Inc., a consulting firm in McLean, Va., acknowledging that such an award would likely prompt a second wave of protests from the losing bidders. 'Why else would the government take so long to make a decision or announce a winner?'

Both DISA and Global Crossing denied the contention.

'Throughout this acquisition, DISA has taken action to ensure a fair, thorough and unbiased source selection,' the agency said in a written statement.

Rescind and reopen

DISA originally awarded Global Crossing the $400 million contract last July, but the other bidders'AT&T Corp., Qwest Communications International Inc. of Denver, Sprint Communications Corp. and WorldCom Inc.'protested to the General Accounting Office over breaches of procurement protocol. The protests prompted DISA to rescind the award and reopen the competition.

Last fall, DISA reissued its request for proposals and accepted new bids from the five telecommunications companies. Sources said the award date for the reissued RFP was set for Jan. 25. John Polivka, a spokesman for Sprint's government systems division, said his company agreed to a deadline extension to March 4. But DISA officials would not confirm that date.

'I wish I could give you a date, but I can't,' said Betsy Flood, public affairs officer for DISA. 'We're still in source selection, so we really can't talk about this.'

Global Crossing is a foreign-based company and recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Last week, the company announced that it expects to post a substantial fourth-quarter loss. The Securities and Exchange Commission also is investigating the company's accounting practices.

In protests last summer, the other four bidders questioned whether Global Crossing could get security clearances to handle classified information.

Initially, the agency required bidders to have secret clearances so that it could expedite background investigations. But DISA amended the RFP to call for security clearances for workers who handle sensitive but unclassified information. The solicitation 'was corrected to reflect the appropriate level of access,' the agency said in a statement.

Bankrupt bidder

A senior official with one of the competing bidders said last December officials at Global Crossing told people that DISA promised them they would win the contract. But a month later, Global Crossing filed for bankruptcy and was asked by DISA to resubmit financial information, the official said.

'We don't comment on rumors,' said Mary Moore, a spokeswoman for Global Crossing.
DISA officials also rejected this charge.

The agency said that after it reopened discussions with the bidders, it assigned a new source selection official, contracting officer and evaluators for the competition. The agency also said it would explain its decision to unsuccessful bidders after it makes an award.

The DREN project will connect more than 6,000 scientists and engineers throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam and other U.S. territories.

The contract will have a three-year base period with seven option years. It will be worth at least $137 million and as much as $400 million if DOD exercises all options. DREN is part of DOD's High-Performance Computing Modernization Program.

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