VA taps AT&T and Qwest for telecom services

Awards are part of an increase in activity on GSA's Networx contract, to which agencies have been slow to transition.

The Veterans Affairs Department announced on Wednesday that it has awarded two task orders totaling $180 million for voice and data services under the General Services Administration's Networx Universal telecommunications contract.

Comment on this article in The Forum.VA awarded a $60 million Qwest Communications International and a $120 million contract to AT&T Government Solutions. Qwest will provide traditional phone services for VA's headquarters in Arlington, Va., and other department locations nationwide. Both AT&T and Qwest will replace VA's aging legacy systems with an IP-based wide area network.

Networx is the government's largest telecommunications contract, with a ceiling of $68 billion for 10 years. The contract has two components, Networx Universal, which requires telecom vendors to provide a full range of telecommunications services both domestically and internationally at the lowest possible prices, similar to its predecessor, FTS2001, and Networx Enterprise, which is designed for smaller companies and is required to offer a minimum of nine IP-related services such as Voice Over IP and network-based VPNs.

Agencies have been slow to transition to Networx after GSA awarded contracts to three telecommunications companies in March 2007. But Wayne Davis, director of government services at Qwest, said the company has seen business pick up significantly in recent weeks because of a Sept. 30 deadline set by the Office of Management and Budget for agencies to submit their statements of work to GSA to recoup the costs of switching to Networx.

Many agencies missed the deadline, and GSA has given them more time to demonstrate they have established a time frame to award a Networx contract. GSA has not issued a new deadline for when agencies have to award a contract to recoup transition costs. GSA officials were not available for comment at the time this article was posted.

Most agencies have developed a schedule for awarding a Networx contract, "and we're seeing a lot of activity in releasing statements of work to the vendor community as well as in awards," Davis said.

VA plans to move to a new IP-based network to support its telemedicine program, which gives its hospitals and veterans access to electronic medical records and other health information, according to Davis. "It's more real time than putting paper through the mail or faxing them," he said.

The agreements between the two companies and VA are expected to last the 10-year life span of the Networx contract. Davis said VA and Qwest were developing a plan to switch to Networx.

Officials at AT&T and VA could not be reached in before this article was posted.