The General Services Administration awarded a $2.5 billion contract to nine vendors March 17 that agencies can use to quickly set up call-in centers for citizens to contact forneeded information during emergencies.
Comment on this article in the forum.The contract, called USA Contact, is a followon contract to GSA's FirstContact, a five-year contract GSA awarded in 2004 to five vendors. That was capped at $150 million, about $110 million of which have been spent on 15 task orders. The Federal Emergency Management Agency used a large portion of those task orders to set up call centers after Hurricane Katrina. The Veterans Affairs Department also used itto set up a call center following the 2006 theft of a laptop computer containing personal data on 26 million veterans .
"It seems like a good portion of this (contract) is geared toward the lessons learned post-Katrina," said Arash Ardalan, a senior analyst for federal defense opportunities with INPUT, a consulting firm based in Reston, Va. The government wants "a fast response time and to be there for citizens."
Under USA Contact, agencies present GSA with requirements for a citizen contact center, which GSA then releases to the nine vendors, according to Martha Doris, deputy associate administrator of the office of citizens' services and communication at GSA. The vendors work with GSA to meet the agency's requirements in terms of staffing, location, training and telecommunication equipment as quickly as possible.
The nine vendors awarded a 10-year contract under USA Contact include Convergys Corp.; CSC-Datatrac Inc.; EDS; ICT Group; Lockheed Martin Services; L3 Communications; TechTeam Government Solutions Inc.; Teletech Government Solutions; and Vangent Inc.
GSA increased USA Contact's ceiling, which is multiple times higher than the previous contract, to take into account natural or manmade disasters that could cause widespread damage and therefore would require large investments in call centers. "If you had a couple major hurricane systems where agencies need major support, you could blow it quicker than you think," Doris said. "We think we can handle any agency's needs, big or small."
The theory behind USA Contact is that the vendors already have the call-center infrastructure in place so that agencies are not required to set them up from scratch, says Stewart Willoughby, director of USA services, a division of GSA. The vendors "are able to save agencies a lot of money so they don't have to purchase this all brand new."
While the contract was primarily designed to set up call centers in response to natural disasters or other emergencies, Doris said agencies could use the services for almost any situation, for managing incoming calls from the public as well as conducting surveys and other outgoing communications, such as help desk or any major contact center throughout the government.
However, the primary value is the speed with which vendors can set up call centers, Doris said. For example, a vendor set up a call center to receive questions from veterans and their families affected by the stolen VA laptop within two days. GSA received a call from the Office of Management and Budget about the stolen laptop on a Friday afternoon, and by Monday afternoon, VA began taking calls at the contact center, Doris said. In such emergencies, she said, the government generally sees an initial spike in call volume, but is able to quickly reduce staffing as the number of calls decreases. "In an emergency situation, the tendency is to overbuild," Doris said. "We build it in such a way that we can ramp it down quickly."