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GSA pushes back Networx deadlines

The General Services Administration has extended two intermediate deadlines for agencies switching to the Networx telecommunications contract, but an observer said it remains unlikely that they will finish the move by June 2011, when services under the previous arrangement will expire.

GSA is giving agencies until August 2010 to pick a Networx vendor and begin changing services, said Karl Krumbholz, director of the network services program at GSA's Federal Acquisition Service. Originally they had until January 2010 to request funding and until April 2010 to submit their orders. The extension comes in response to a request from the Interagency Management Council steering committee, chaired by Interior Department Chief Information Officer Sonny Bhagowalia.

According to Krumbholz, only 33 percent of services have been disconnected from FTS 2001, the less complicated contract that preceded Networx.

"Where we are now in the transition suggests that we're not going to make those milestones," he said. He declined to predict how likely it was agencies would complete the move by June 2011, but he was more pessimistic than three months ago.

"I'm hoping it will be done, there's a lot of work to be done yet," Krumbholz said. "Our goal is to get it done by 2011, that's when the contracts expire. Those are the facts."

Moving the intermediate milestones won't make much of a difference in completing the transition before FTS 2001 expires, said Bob Woods, president of Tyson's Corner, Va., Topside Consulting Group and former commissioner of GSA's now-defunct Federal Technology Service.

"The best they're going to get is 60 percent to 65 percent cut over by [June 2011]," he said. "I'm not wishing they'll miss it, I hope they don't. But hope is not a plan. That date seems awfully ambitious."

Woods attributed the delays to the complexity of Networx, which has forced agencies to evaluate their telecommunications needs. There is no easy one-to-one transition for many services as there was from FTS 2000 to FTS 2001. He said the shrinking of the federal telecom workforce and a lack of leadership from GSA also contributed to the problem.

"GSA has been too reticent about how they've treated this thing," Woods said. "Their view initially was that the contracts are out there, the transitions are up to you. You know when the deadlines are." GSA has shown improvement recently, he said, particularly under the leadership of Ed O'Hare, head of the Integrated Technology Service.

Krumbholz noted agencies are making 383 fair opportunity decisions, far more than originally anticipated. GSA expected agencies to choose one carrier for the bulk of their Networx services, but most have decided to hold competitions for individual services instead. Agencies have made only half of the fair opportunity decisions and 38 percent of the total statements of work have yet to reach GSA.

Delays in moving to Networx are costing the government $18 million a month, since the new contract is significantly cheaper than its predecessor. Moreover, any extension of FTS 2001 would involve sole-source contracts, which the Obama administration has said it wants to avoid.

Officials are growing more aware of the transition's importance thanks to O'Hare's leadership and the influence of the Chief Information Officers Council, which has been briefed and is "very aware and inclined to get this done," Krumbholz said.

"I think their heart's in it," Woods said. "But I think June 2011 will be very difficult to make."

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