GAO: Networx strategy still risky

The General Services Administration has made progress in addressing concerns over the $10 billion FTS Networx telecommunications contract, but steps still need to be taken for managing the transition from the old contract to the new one, an official with the Government Accountability Office said today.

In addition to improving transition management, GSA also must be able to measure the program's performance and resolve concerns about the usability of billing data, said Linda Koontz, GAO's director of information management issues.

Networx is a huge 10-year contract for governmentwide telecommunications and data services. It replaces FTS2001, which expires in 2006. A draft request for proposals is expected in November with an award to several contracts in April 2006.

In February, GAO told the House Government Reform that GSA would face challenges with the procurement's structure and scheduling, transition planning, service inventories and performance measures.

In April, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the committee, asked GAO to assess GSA's progress in addressing the challenges it had identified.

GSA revised its acquisition strategy and presented it in August. In today's hearing, GAO said GSA has addressed several of the challenges facing Networx, but must make additional efforts to fully tackle them.

'Until GSA develops and applies strategies for addressing the outstanding challenges facing Networx, it risks not being able to deliver all of the operations and cost improvement outlined in the program's goals,' Koontz said in her testimony.

When asked by Davis how GSA would assure a complete transition from FTS2001 to Networx before the new award is issued, Sandra Bates, commissioner of GSA's Federal Technology Service, said government agencies have started working on their service-level inventories and timelines for their transitions. She also said GSA has agreements in place with several carriers to ensure service during the transition from the old contract to the new one.

In response to another Davis question, Koontz said that other federal departments planning their own telecom-related contracts would undermine Networx.

The Treasury Department, for instance, is involved in a few big telecom-related acquisitions such as the 10-year Treasury Communications Enterprise contract for a single, departmentwide network including technology, support and management for Treasury's 850 locations. The Treasury Department is also involved in the Integrated Wireless Network contract for wireless networks service and support, in conjunction with the Homeland Security and Justice departments.

'Our position is that anything outside FTS2001 and Networx that's not mandatory' will undermine the telecom services contract, Koontz said. 'Only in cases where those contracts are deemed necessary should they be awarded.'

At the beginning of the hearing, Davis said he was disappointed that Treasury Department officials did not accept his request to participate in the hearing.

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