WITH PERSISTENT TRANSITION ISSUES, IS THE COMPREHENSIVE TELECOM CONTRACT DEAD?
GSA keeps pushing back deadlines for agencies that have not yet transitioned their telecommunications infrastructure to the EIS contract, despite contracts being awarded nearly five years ago and a 100% transition deadline of September 30th. That deadline will not be met as the agency most recently invoked the EIS contract’s Continuity of Service (COS) clause that will allow the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice to have until May 31, 2024 to transition, with only an MOU on how that will done in place by the end of the current fiscal year. This move comes after multiple other GSA actions giving smaller agencies more time to transition and extending legacy contracts out that EIS was supposed to replace. This costs time and money for both industry and government. Contractors spend millions to pursue and bid on such contracts, only to see initial business come at a trickle. Other contractors may never see any recovery of their bid and proposal investments. The government wastes money by keeping legacy systems. The Social Security Administration, for example, only transitioned to EIS after a negative FITARA report card grade. Now the agency is saving $80 million a year since it awarded its data network services EIS contract, and it anticipates that savings will increase to 54% once voice services contract work is completed.
The question must be asked on whether the era of large, catch-all telecommunications contracts is over. The costs and delays aren’t unique to EIS, but it is undeniable that, with each new telecom contract iteration, the costs get higher and the delays get longer. A serious conversation needs to be had on alternative acquisition strategies and on whether a new telecom contract is even needed. Most “calls” today take place on internet-based platforms like Zoom, Google Meets, and Microsoft Teams. Few people dial a number, unless they join with their cell phone.
Industry, GSA, and customer agencies should sit down now to discuss this issue and develop serious alternatives to ensure that acquisition strategies are as advanced and flexible as the telecom solutions they will acquire. GSA has issued large, catch-all telecommunications contracts with many of the same features for over 30 years. The days of Ernestine and her switchboard are gone. Isn’t it time to look at a new acquisition strategy, too?