COVID-19 More Likely to Accelerate Telecom Modernization than Cause Delays, GSA Officials Say


The pandemic has delayed some agency transitions to the $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract, but those are outliers, according to program leads.

The majority of federal agencies missed important deadlines in the ongoing transition to the General Services Administration’s Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions, or EIS, telecom contract. But program leaders said the COVID-19 pandemic shouldn’t add many significant delays.

“They’re actually only a few agencies that have been impacted by the COVID-19 because of where they’re at,” Allen Hill, executive director of GSA’s Office of Telecommunications Services, told Nextgov Tuesday during The Next Big Network webcast. “It’s primarily agencies that have awarded task orders, for example, and a vendor may be trying to get access to a facility for purpose of a site survey, but they can’t get in because there’s nobody there.”

The $50 billion contract was awarded in August 2017 to 10 telecom vendors—now nine after the merger between CenturyLink and Level 3—and positioned as an opportunity for agencies to modernize their network infrastructure as they move to a new contract. In order to ensure sufficient time to transition off the legacy contracts, GSA pushed agencies to finalize their solicitations and begin awarding task orders by September 2019. Few agencies met that deadline.

As of Tuesday, 35 solicitations had been awarded, with 46 task orders issued through those awards, Hill said. Those awards total approximately $5 billion in obligations, he said.

However, 70 solicitations are still pending award, and Hill said the program expects a total of “151 fair opportunities coming out of EIS” before the transition is complete.

The legacy contracts—like Networx and WITS-3—have been extended to May 2023. To ensure agencies are switched over to EIS before that drop-dead date, the transitions have to be completed by September 2022.

“That cushion we have between September 2022 and May 2023 is for the purpose of taking those few agencies that may have had some impact,” such as due to COVID-19, and “be able to have a little wiggle room to work with them,” Hill said. “My belief is that the majority of agencies will meet those dates.”

Hill expects agency transitions specifically affected by the current pandemic will need an additional month or two to catch up.

“We’re going to look agency by agency once everything is all complete and back to normalized, we’ll make determinations based on those agencies whether anything should change,” he said. “But we’re not going to say holistically that the entire program should be delayed because most of the agencies are making great progress despite what’s happened.”

For some agencies, the pandemic—and the mass teleworking it requires—has “served as a wake-up call” on the importance of modernizing network infrastructure, said Jim Russo, EIS program technical director.

Those realizations “could be handled either by [agencies] adjusting a current contract in place or accelerating their move to EIS,” he said, though it is unlikely the COVID-19 crisis has led to any major overhauls.

“In terms of massive restructuring of a solicitation, it’s hard to tell. Some agencies may have taken the opportunity to do another check of their solicitation before they went final with it, which we wouldn’t see, necessarily. But I don’t think there’s been much in the way of getting new or reissued solicitations to us for scope review,” Russo said.

“It did accelerate the thinking in this area,” he added. “I think it cemented where agencies wanted to go with their solicitations.”