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FCW : March 30, 2016
BOB WOODS is president of Topside Consulting Group and former commissioner of the General Services Administration’s Federal Technology Service. Commentary | BOB WOODS The General Services Administration is working on the fourth-generation vehicle for obtaining telecommuni- cations services. Since at least the breakup of the old Bell Telephone network in the 1980s, the govern- ment has steadily shifted toward buying more and building less. The Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract has just received bids for a $50 billion deal, but the hard work is just beginning. The last transition, from FTS 2001 to Networx, was a mess. Although it was the second and theoretically easier switch, it often looked like two baseball outfielders letting a ball drop between them because each assumed the other would catch it. The process took more than six years and cost the government more than $300 million in potential savings, according to a Govern- ment Accountability Office analysis. Although Networx has saved the government significant money, it didn’t come close to maximizing that potential and did not take early advantage of new technology and its capabilities. Fast-forward to today. The process to compete EIS has had some fresh thinking and innova- tion. Industry representatives were brought into discussions early. There were multiple industry days, blog posts, one-on-one company interchanges and industry work- groups. From the time the request for proposals was released until bids were submitted on Feb. 22, GSA answered more than 1,000 questions and posted each response on its Interact website. That’s the good news. The bad news is that GSA will announce the EIS winners early next year, and agencies must be ready to present their requirements and invento- ries and conduct a fair opportunity process to select the company that will provide their services. And then those agencies must go through the transition from their incumbent net- work services company to the new provider. The first question to ask is: Who is in charge? Is it GSA, the Office of Management and Budget or agen- cies themselves? What happens if an agency doesn’t make the transition in a timely fashion? Who’s account- able if there are system outages? How can GSA, a central agency with no enforcement powers, ensure that the transition is effectively planned and executed? The way to ensure those impor- tant questions are addressed is to provide clear rewards, punish- ments and incentives. GSA is not the agency to do that. GSA officials provide the infrastructure and central resources to execute the government’s policies, but having them send directives to Cabinet-level departments is like getting a letter from accounting on how to pros- ecute the war. First sergeants don’t take those letters seriously. Making EIS a success is going to take some top executive leadership. Saving a few billion dollars might not make much difference in the overall federal budget, but it does matter. Adopting more cost-effective network services boosts the govern- ment’s ability to serve the public, and it’s basically done on a self-fund- ing and sustainable basis because of the advances in the industry. Companies have invested tens of millions of dollars to bid on EIS. They rightfully believe the govern- ment has an opportunity to modern- ize its service delivery infrastructure with support from a robust telecom- munications sector. Yet all those opportunities could be squandered if agencies fail to move smartly. Letting the transi- tion again take six years would be a black mark on the government’s leadership capabilities. OMB is the oversight agency with the responsi- bility to ensure a quick transition. It should direct agencies to get it done and publish progress reports and let- ter grades on implementation. It would be a shame to let all the hard work that’s already happened go to waste. n We can’t afford another 6-year telecom transition Great progress has been made on the General Services Administration’s Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract, but the hard work has barely begun The last transition, from F TS 2001 to Networx , was a mess, and government missed out on more than $300 million in potential savings. 14 March 30, 2016 FCW.COM 0330fcw_014.indd 14 3/9/16 9:35 AM
March 15, 2016
April 15, 2016