Agencies Need Broadband Today – Why Wait for NS2020?

asharkyu/Shutterstock.com

Much of the emerging technology agencies need today is already available under the GSA Schedule.

Tony Bardo is assistant vice president for government solutions at Hughes.

Last year, the General Services Administration announced the Network Services 2020 Strategy will supersede Networx, the federal government’s existing telecommunications program that expires in 2017.

A slow initial migration to Networx caused agencies to miss out on literally hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of savings and -- according to the Government Accountability Office -- caused GSA to spend $66 million to support it. GSA recently announced a three-year contract extension for the Networx program, pushing the transition time frame from 2017 to 2020.

However, agencies immediately need capabilities offered by NS2020, and will suffer financial and operational setbacks the longer they wait in procuring these capabilities. And the truth is, in many instances, they don’t have to wait: Much of the emerging technology is available today under the GSA Schedule.

There is much to be excited about in NS2020. In addition to addressing a common agency complaint about the lack of bundled ordering in Networx, it seeks to bring more private sector competition into this program. It divides its offerings into categories for Infrastructure Solutions, Satellite, Mobility/Wireless, Advisory Services, Emerging Technology and Services, and Government Shared Services.

In GSA’s NS2020 Transition Strategy, one of the agency’s four key recommendations to improve the transition is to allow a staggered transition. The strategy expounded on this, stating that agencies are responsible for defining and describing their requirements in advance of the transition deadline, and that “commencing such activities prior to contract award is essential to the timely completion of overall transition.”

The Emerging Technologies category is an exciting revival of the Networx Enterprise contract’s intended function and offers the best opportunity for the federal government to deliver on numerous modernization initiatives.

One of the best examples of how emerging technologies are spurring beneficial growth within the government is the increased adoption of telehealth. A recent study found that telehealth was 43 percent more effective in providing post-traumatic stress disorder treatment to afflicted veterans when compared with usual care.

This disruption in traditional care is reflected by the increased adoption of remote health care across the Department of Veterans Affairs, which reported that its national telehealth programs served over 690,000 veterans in fiscal 2014. About 55 percent of those were “veterans living in rural areas with limited access to VA health care.”

Imagine if VA waited for NS2020 before acquiring the satellite technology necessary to deliver telehealth services -- hundreds of thousands of rural veterans would go without receiving the topmost level of care they deserve.

Every agency would realize immediate benefits by investing in NS2020 capabilities such as telecommunications, networking, satellite and managed services now. This is especially true for field offices and other underserved or underbudgeted extensions of the federal government still reliant on outdated technologies such as DSL, T1 lines or legacy infrastructure.

Thankfully, there is no need for agencies to wait to acquire the emerging technologies provided by NS2020. Agencies should leverage their ability to purchase these solutions now through existing GSA schedules, rather than waiting. By purchasing these services now, agencies will be proactively avoiding the savings costs associated with the delayed Networx implementation.

It is the agencies’ responsibility to identify and then implement the most capable and cost-effective solutions available, rather than continue to spend taxpayer dollars on outdated and more expensive technology for another five years -- or even longer, if delays persist. GSA has made it abundantly clear that in order to avoid another costly and delayed transition, coordination between all stakeholders -- GSA, the Office of Management and Budget, customer agencies and service providers -- needs to start now.

With plans already in place to phase in existing contracts, and seeing how many of the NS2020 capabilities are currently available through the GSA Schedules program, agencies should be asking themselves, “Why wait?”

(Image via asharkyu/ Shutterstock.com)

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