With work underway to shift the federal government to a new $50 billion telecommunications contract by 2020, a watchdog says the General Services Administration and other agencies could be doing more to make the transition go smoothly.
The Government Accountability Office in a new report examined the lessons learned from GSA’s previous major telecom contract transitions of Networx in 2007 and FTS2001 in 1998 and 1999, finding that they could be better applied in the current shift to the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract, which is set to go online in 2020.
“The last two GSA government-wide telecommunications contract transitions experienced significant delays that led to hundreds of millions of dollars in increased costs and missed savings,” the report said, noting that GSA had identified 96 lessons from the previous transitions, 35 of which agencies should apply in a telecommunications contract move. GSA believe only 33 of those apply in the move to EIS.
While GSA officials have issued plans to aid agencies in the recent shift, investigators said they did so in a piecemeal fashion.
GAO officials said GSA never addressed all 33 lessons learned in one document but rather focused on a selection of lessons in a series of reports and policy guidance, and did not do so “comprehensively or consistently.”
“When the information provided in GSA’s guidance is considered collectively, significant gaps in communicating previous lessons learned are evident,” the report said, noting that 2016 transition guidance fully addressed 15 lessons learned, partially address another nine and did not mention the final nine at all.
Subsequent guidance released between January and April 2017 focused on 17 lessons fully, nine partially and neglected to mention seven of them at all, which included discussions on the cost of transition delays and the difficulties of transitioning services to an existing vendor.
The report also spotlighted the transition efforts of five large agencies with significant Networx contract spending. While all five—the departments of Agriculture, Labor, and Transportation, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Social Security Administration—had instituted some transition planning practices, none of them had implemented all of the recommended practices.
Specifically, the report cites the following necessary planning practices:
- Develop asset and service inventories.
- Incorporate strategic needs into transition planning.
- Develop a structured transition-management approach.
- Identify resources necessary for the transition.
- Establish transition objectives, risks and measures of success.
While all of the agencies had started developing their service inventories, only the SEC had completed theirs and documented their maintenance process. While some agencies had taken steps to reconcile their inventories, others didn’t have written procedures on how to construct a central inventory.
“Without complete and accurate telecommunications inventories, the selected agencies are less likely to be prepared to address strategic considerations and may be unable to avoid unnecessary transition delays associated with inventory identification,” the report said.
The GAO offered 25 recommendations to GSA and the five customer agencies. GSA officials agreed to revise its guidance and include the 16 lessons learned that weren’t previously featured in its transition information for agencies.
Four of the five other agencies agreed with each of the GAO’s recommendations, but the SSA agreed with only two of them. SSA officials agreed to identify transition resources but said no further training was necessary and that a recommended cost-benefit justification of transition elements would prove “extremely difficult.” SSA officials also disagreed with a recommendation to identify measures of success and risks related to continuity of operations and critical systems, saying risk assessments were already included in planning documents.
EIS is projected to become operational in March 2020.