Telecommunications:

GSA Faces Challenges in Planning for New Governmentwide Program

GAO-04-486T: Published: Feb 26, 2004. Publicly Released: Feb 26, 2004.

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The Genera1 Services Administration (GSA) has initiated planning for its next-generation telecommunications acquisition program, known as Networx, which will replace the current Federal Telecommunications System (FTS) 2001 for longdistance and international services. It will also replace contracts for wireless and satellite communications products and services. Planning for this acquisition is occurring within an environment of tremendous change--in the industry, in underlying services and technology, and potentially in the regulatory environment. In this context, Networx can offer a significant opportunity for the federal government to flexibly acquire telecommunications services at competitive rates and apply innovative solutions to improving agency operations. At the request of the Chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, GAO is providing an overview of acquisition planning steps completed to date, along with its assessment of challenges facing GSA and federal agencies as this acquisition proceeds.

Over the past year, GSA has acted to ensure that all interested parties-- including industry and agency users--have had a chance to comment on the development of the successor to FTS2001 and associated contracts. In its planning for the Networx acquisition, GSA cited five goals for the program: (1) continuity of telecommunications services, (2) best value, (3) strong competition, (4) a broad range of services and providers in a changing marketplace, and (5) expanded opportunities for small businesses. To achieve this, GSA plans two acquisitions: Networx Universal--broadranging services with global coverage, and Networx Select--leading-edge services but more geographically limited. To take full advantage of the opportunities offered in these new contracts, GSA will need to address four key challenges: (1) ensuring that an adequate inventory of information about existing telecommunications services and assets is available, to give planners an informed understanding of governmentwide requirements; (2) establishing specific measures of success to aid acquisition decision making and effective program management; (3) structuring and scheduling the contracts to ensure timely delivery of competitively priced telecommunications services that meet agency mission needs; and (4) ensuring a smooth transition from the current contracts by initiating appropriate implementation planning actions. Both leadership from GSA and commitment from stakeholders in resolving these issues will be essential to establishing efficient, cost-effective, and secure telecommunications services. If this can be achieved, the Networx contracts will be optimally positioned to leverage the power and creativity of today's telecommunications marketplace to carry the federal government forward well into the 21st century.

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