In August 2017, the General Services Administration (GSA) awarded a potential 15-year, $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract to 10 telecommunications companies. EIS is a government-wide contract that provides federal agencies with mission-critical telecommunications, infrastructure, and information technology services. Its goal is to provide transformational communications services for federal agencies from a mix of traditional and non-traditional telecommunications services providers.
In response to concerns of delays of necessary implementations, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) administered a survey to nineteen selected agencies that spent at least $10 million on telecommunications in fiscal year 2018 regarding their transition schedule plans for EIS. As of October 2019, nineteen selected agencies were in different stages of transitioning from their expiring Networx contracts to the new EIS program. All of these agencies reported that they plan to fully transition to EIS before current contracts expire in May 2023. However, eleven agencies are not on track to meet the GSA’s transition goal of September 30, 2022.
While the GAO acknowledged that “transitioning to EIS is a complex undertaking,” it also made clear that “delaying this transition will cause agencies to miss potential cost Federal agencies don’t plan to meet a significant milestone for a transition to a new telecommunications contract vehicle.”
Agencies are Behind Transition Goals
According to a GAO April 2020 report — which evaluated agencies’ transition plans to the EIS contract — most agencies missed important transition schedule deadlines required by the GSA.
Networx contracts are scheduled to expire in May 2023. To ensure agencies don’t miss that deadline, the GSA set a September 30, 2022 milestone for the transition of all Networx contracts to the EIS contract.
However, the GAO report found that eleven of them don’t plan to transition by the September 2022 milestone set by the GSA. Instead, they expect to finish the transition by May 2023. The GAO warned that missing the September 2022 milestone presents too much risk of entirely missing the May 2023 Networx expiration.
“By waiting until close to the end of the current contracts to finish the transition, these agencies are at risk of experiencing disruptions in service if any issues arise that result in transition delays, such as inadequate human capital resources or the need to transition previously unidentified services,” the GAO report read.
While agencies are on track to miss the May 2023 deadline, the GAO also reported that most agencies missed both of the GSA’s 2019 milestones for EIS. Fourteen agencies missed the March 2019 milestone for releasing all EIS fair opportunity solicitations, while all but one missed the September 2019 milestone for issuing all EIS task orders.
Agency officials told the GAO that they missed deadlines for several reasons, including staffing shortages and the complexity of the requirements. However, the GAO concluded that the transition to the EIS contract was delayed because of poor agency planning. The report stated that “is critical for agencies to apply a rigorous management approach from the start of the current transition using the information that is currently available, even though changes may be necessary as conditions evolve.”
The GAO has estimated that transition from Networx to EIS delays have led to $66.4 million in additional costs to the GSA and $329 million in missed savings opportunities.
GSA’s Lack of Response to Agencies’ Shortcomings
On March 4, 2020, the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Government Operation held a hearing with the GSA. During the hearing, several committee members voiced their frustrations with the agencies’ delays in transitioning to EIS and were doubtful that the GSA could adequately redress these issues.
Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC) said, “Obviously, we haven’t made [the agencies] see the light” and that if they haven’t seen the light “it’s time they feel the heat.”
“There’s no accountability,” continued Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA). “No one’s head rolls when they don’t make transition. We’ve got to look at holding agencies accountable in way that gets their attention.”
Despite Congress’s obvious frustrations, Carol Harris, director of GAO’s IT acquisition management issues, offered little assurance. Offering no concrete solutions, Harris simply stated, “perhaps there are some penalties agencies should experience to learn these lessons,” but failed to contemplate what those penalties could be.