GSA issues WITS 3 RFP

The General Services Administration has released a request for proposals for the Washington Interagency Telecommunications 3 contract, despite being on the verge of awarding the $20 billion Networx telecommunications contract.

In documents released with the RFP, GSA notifies agency customers that WITS 3 'will serve as a stable platform' for users 'to migrate to Networx based on individual agency requirements, funding availability and timelines.'

But that doesn't mean WITS 3, which is a follow-on to WITS2001, is a bridge contract until Networx is up and running, according to Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc., a federal IT management consulting firm in Jenkintown, Pa.

'GSA's philosophy has always been to give customers choice,' Suss said. 'My bet is a lot of agencies will continue to use WITS for a long time, and when GSA talks about [an] 'interim platform,' they are using it to describe their long-range plan to promote Networx services. I don't think WITS is going away soon.'

The overlap between WITS 3 and Networx is significant when it comes to local telecommunications services. GSA said vendors must provide voice services under WITS 3, while data services are optional. Under Networx Universal telecom services vehicle, GSA said, voice and data are mandatory.

Suss believes that overlap is not a bad thing.

'It is not a question of using WITS for two or three months, but rather agencies making a decision on how they want to handle local services for the long term,' he said. 'Even in the most aggressive case of an agency wanting to move to Networx, there will be a significant period of time between when Networx gets awarded and when agencies make the decision [about] who they will use. And there will be more time until the services get turned on. Many agencies will use WITS for many years.'

Verizon Communications Inc. of New York and Qwest Communications International Inc. of Denver are the providers under WITS2001.

'I believe GSA hopes to get some of the competitive local-exchange companies into the mix,' Suss said. 'If they are able to pick up some business from second- or third-tier local-exchange carriers who are hoping to get piece of action, that would be more competition.'

Suss added that another interesting dimension is whether WITS 3 attracts cable companies that provide voice and data services as well.

Some of the larger agencies using WITS2001 include the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and GSA.

GSA issued the draft RFP in May and sought vendor comments. The multiple-award contract could be worth $1.8 billion over eight years. Questions regarding the RFP are due Feb. 5, and proposals are due March 5.

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