Complexity of Networx offerings causes delays

Agencies are unexpectedly splitting requirements into different categories, resulting in multiple competitions.

The range and complexity of the offerings on the Networx telecommunications contract have contributed to delays in the transition from its predecessor, according to industry officials.

Networx is the government's largest telecommunications program to date, a 10-year pact with a ceiling of $68 billion. It offers more advanced telecom technologies and services than the expiring FTS 2001 contract.

According to vendors on Networx, the complexity of the new offerings on the contract vehicle has contributed to delays in the transition that are costing the government $18 million a month in missed savings. Industry observers have predicted that some agencies will miss the June 2011 deadline for FTS 2001 services to be cut off.

"There's more stuff on Networx, things that agencies are acquiring now that they didn't necessarily acquire on FTS 2001," said Jeff Mohan, executive director of the Networx program for AT&T, one of three vendors on both the Universal and Enterprise segments of the contract. "The complexity has increased because the portfolio is so much larger." Universal provides all FTS 2001 services and more than 20 new services emphasizing Internet protocol-based networks. Enterprise is more limited, but includes a broader range of contractors.

Among the new products and services available are a range of security services, more options for wireless communications, video and teleconferencing. Mohan said AT&T offers 44 categories of products and services on Networx Universal and Enterprise, as opposed to 26 on FTS 2001.

The complexity of the offerings on Networx has led most agencies to break down their requirements into different categories, often leading to separate competitions for voice, wireless and IP needs, among others. Under the 1994 Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act, all multiple award contractors must receive a fair opportunity for consideration for each task or delivery order in excess of $2,500 issued under a contract. Agencies cannot place orders on Networx until they have completed a fair-opportunity competition for each service they plan to order.

Last week Karl Krumbholz, GSA's director of network services, told Nextgov that most agencies have chosen to divide their services among different vendors, something GSA did not anticipate when developing the contract vehicle. The result is an increase in the number of fair opportunity decisions, with a corresponding increase in the workload for agencies' already overburdened telecom and acquisition workforces.

Susan Zeleniak, group president of Networx vendor Verizon Federal, said activity on Networx has been brisk in recent months, but confirmed that most agencies appear to be evaluating separate bids for every service needed, often resulting in multiple awards to different vendors.

"When they do individual procurements, it's a lot of work for the agency," Zeleniak said. "Clearly they believe it's worth the effort, but it does take more time."

Zeleniak said very few agencies have chosen to go with one vendor for a range of voice and IP services, as GSA originally envisioned. Additionally, she said, agencies are conducting the competitions very carefully to ensure they get the best possible combination of service and price.

One example is NASA, which announced on Monday that it has awarded a $14.2 million, eight-year task order to Qwest Government Services to upgrade the agency's high-speed broadband backbone. NASA procurement specialist Vanessa Lindsey said the agency took 14 months to complete the fair opportunity decision. She said the most difficult aspect of the process was getting the necessary level of detail from the vendors.

"After we did get the information, the process went pretty smoothly," Lindsey said.

Like most agencies that have made awards on Networx, NASA has chosen to split its services among multiple vendors and has issued at least two requests for proposals, with more on the way. Despite the additional workload, Lindsey said her agency considers it worthwhile to examine each service individually.

"In our experience, what we've seen is that different contractors provide different services in technically and operationally different ways," in addition to charging different prices for the same service, she said.