The final deadline for bids on the General Services Administration’s massive forthcoming governmentwide telecommunications contract is Monday, but the vehicle’s masterminds have their attention fixed on something else further down the road: a smooth transition.
GSA’s Office of Integrated Technology Services is planning for and hoping to execute a successful transition from the current Networx telecom contract to its successor — Network Services 2020’s Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions — by May 2020 with no delays, officials told FedScoop Wednesday.
Part of the agency’s massive vision for the future of federal telecoms and IT infrastructure contracting, EIS is slated to replace GSA’s popular Networx contract, under which agencies spent more than $1.5 billion in 2014, and Regional Local Service Agreements. EIS, however, is set to be even bigger, and draw more competition and business into the marketplace with a range of offerings, like voice, video, cloud, network and data transport services, and more — all under the umbrella of the $50 billion contract.
Amando Gavino, director of the Office of Network Services Programs for GSA’s ITS, said the change-over to EIS is his biggest concern right now, particularly because the last transition from the previous FTS2001 contracts to Networx, which began in 2007 and took years, was anything but smooth. The Government Accountability Office said in a 2014 report that the delayed transition cost agencies about $329 million.
“There are millions of items that need to transition…and there are over 120 agencies we have to work with to transition those items,” said Gavino, who joined GSA after the bumpy Networx transition. “That takes a tremendous amount of manpower to do.”
ITS Assistant Commissioner Mary Davie told FedScoop her team has been focused on planning for the upcoming transition for the last 10 months, “sharing with them data, like what they’re buying off the current contract, how much they’re buying, who they’re buying from, and just some ideas for starting to think about transition.”
“Because of the lessons learned from the previous transition, we really felt it was important to start working with the agencies well before the contract was even awarded,” Davie said.
The GSA team has imposed some early deadlines so that the majority of the transition should come well before the May 2020 deadline. GSA wants agencies to appoint transition teams by this March, and those teams are to produce a transition plan and final inventory of services to be transitioned by the end of October. Since the deadline for industry proposals is Monday and there are likely to be protests, the EIS contracts should be awarded late in 2016. By the start of fiscal year 2017 on Oct. 1, GSA wants agencies to complete fair-opportunity decisions with vendors — that is, place orders with the awardees. And by January 2019, GSA wants at least 50 percent of the transition to be complete.
GSA also extended Networx contracts expirations from 2017 to 2020 to provide time for an orderly transition to EIS.
That’s just the plan, though, and executing on it and keeping agencies on track will prove challenging, the officials said.
“We’ve been out, we’ve been talking about the importance of all of it,” Davie said. “The CIOs get it. We’ve included the acquisition executives and the agencies in it. So I think from a planning perspective we’re in good shape. Now it’s just are we going to be able to execute the way we need to?”
Money could become an issue, especially for agencies that don’t have the funds to transform and upgrade their services to emerging technologies during the transition period, Gavino said.
“That will take time on their part to decide whether they need to do both now or wait later,” he said, emphasizing that GSA will be there to help those struggling agencies along the way.
There’s also a push from top administration IT officials in support of agencies modernizing and moving away from their legacy IT systems — the president’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2017 offers a revolving $3.1 billion fund housed in GSA to help agencies with modernization projects.
In terms of the evolution of new technologies, Gavino told FedScoop that despite still being three years out from the EIS transition deadline, he’s already directing his team to look beyond it to NS2020’s next iterations.
“To have a strategy that’s just three years from now, it’s not much of a strategy — it’s too tactical,” Gavino said of NS2020, a strategy GSA has been developing for many years. “For us to be planning for only three years from now — to me I think it’s a waste of government money,” he said.
Instead, he said, the agency needs to look further — to 2025.
We need to “talk about the future of technology that’s coming forward: software-defined networking, network functions virtualization, cloud,” Gavino said. “How is that going to service the federal government? We need to think further out.”