Agencies Off-Pace to Switch to New Telecom Contract Before Cutoff Date, GAO Says
The latest FITARA scorecard showed what percentage of operations have moved off old infrastructure contracts—and the numbers aren’t good.
Federal agencies aren’t transitioning to the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions telecom contract vehicle fast enough and several may not be on track to meet the May 2023 cutoff date for the old contracts, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The latest scorecard evaluating agency compliance with the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA, included a new column that measured what percentage of task orders have been moved off previous contracts, most notably Networx, but also WITS-3 and Local Service Contracts.
Those percentages are less than stellar: The average across all 24 agencies is about 41%. The median score is closer to 37%. Only one agency—the Nuclear Regulatory Commission—posted a percentage above 80.
“They're behind in where they need to be in order to make the transition on time,” Carol Harris, the director of GAO's IT and cybersecurity team, said. Harris leads GAO’s FITARA scorecard work, and she testified at the August 3 scorecard hearing.
The General Service Administration’s EIS contract—awarded in 2017—is expected to be worth $50 billion over 15 years. Every federal agency is required to move services ranging from basic telecom to wholesale infrastructure modernization over to the new contract. The FITARA scorecard included transition percentages from the 24 Chief Financial Officers Act agencies.
Harris told Nextgov in an interview Friday the slow transition pace isn’t atypical, but it is concerning. The point of the EIS contract is to offer agencies better rates, enabling cost savings as well as encouraging technology modernization.
But agencies aren’t prioritizing the change, Harris said. As many as 11 federal agencies have already stated they won’t make the 2022 deadline requiring 100% of operations to be moved to the EIS contract, she said.
The scorecard included the EIS transition information as a wake-up call for agencies that are lagging behind. The column was inspired by past troubles with transitioning: Agencies missed out on roughly $30 million in savings during the slow switch to Networx, Harris said.
“If you have these bridge contracts, where agencies are still allowed to maintain their legacy contracts, agencies are missing out on savings because they can't fully take advantage of those lower rates on the newer contract,” Harris said.
The gap between the September 2022 deadline and the May 2023 expiration of the old contracts creates a brief grace period for agencies. The 2023 expiration is a deadline that has been pushed back already, too. The old contracts were originally supposed to expire this year.
Some agencies may have been slowed in the transition by the coronavirus pandemic, but program leads said delays only applied to a few agencies. The months between the 2022 deadline and May 2023 are meant to serve as a catch-up period for those agencies that may have had unexpected transition slowdowns due to extenuating circumstances like COVID, Allen Hill, executive director of GSA’s Office of Telecommunications Services, told Nextgov in May.
Harris said she hopes measuring the transition will force agencies to consider it a priority and avoid any further delays. This has the potential to minimize the number of agencies that will need help during the cushion period.
Some experts caution that monitoring the transition to EIS is just the beginning. Stephen Kovac, vice president of global government and head of corporate compliance for Zscaler, a cloud-based information security company, told Nextgov adding the EIS column to the scorecard is positive. But he wants to see future scorecards go deeper.
“It’s great we added it, but we need to put some teeth into adding it with modernization,” Kovac said. “I’m seeing many agencies just swapping paper.”
Kovac said some agencies are putting bids out for modernization, but what they end up doing is taking old networks and moving them over to the new contract “like-for-like,” rather than updating operations to the latest in best practices and innovation. Kovac wants agencies to have to state clearly on future FITARA scorecards how much of their EIS operations are being used for the advancement of IT modernization priorities.
“The question needs to be: ‘What modernization did I gain by moving to EIS?’” he said.
Dave Powner, the former IT director for the GAO who currently serves as director of strategic engagement and partnerships at MITRE, said there may be easy ways to enhance the EIS column on the scorecard to push agencies toward realizing the full vision for the EIS contract. Powner said creating simple standards is key.
For example, a clear grading scale that hands out passing grades for getting on the contracting vehicle, higher grades for awarding higher numbers of contracts and highest grades for good behaviors like meeting infrastructure modernization priorities may create better incentives for agencies.
“Ultimately it’s not about letting contracts. It’s about having modern, secure networks that you could actually evolve over time,” Powner said.
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