In about two weeks, federal agencies face a deadline to issue task orders under the General Services Administration’s $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions network modernization contract. Some agencies will miss the deadline. But according to the GSA, that is not a major cause for concern.
“Even though the Sept. 30 date may pass for some agencies, it’s more of a yellow light type thing for folks that really need to turn it up in those next few months and get things out there,” Allen Hill, the director of the Telecommunications Services Office at the GSA, said last month at an event sponsored by industry group ACT-IAC, according to FedScoop. “And agencies are responding — they are. They are really buckling down.”
According to Hill, 54 agency solicitations had passed GSA’s scope review but only four awards had been made — two by the Justice Department, one by NASA and one by the Railroad Retirement Board, Federal News Network reports.
As agency IT leaders press forward on the transition, they are having to consider not just technology modernization, but how the evolving nature of networks influences and interacts with how agencies carry out their missions.
“There is no longer white and black. It’s no longer network, security and infrastructure. It’s very much gray now, the way the technologies work together,” Hill said, according to Federal News Network. “[Agencies] have to understand how the technologies work and go from the traditional [ways they work] to new technologies and ensure the services continue.”
Agencies Will Get Modernized Network Tech with EIS
EIS, which is designed to let agencies modernize their networks, especially via technologies such as software-defined networking and 5G wireless networks, replaces the existing Networx contract. Agencies had been required to transition away from the Networx contracting vehicle to EIS by the spring of 2020. However, in December, the GSA extended the deadline to 2023 to give agencies more time to switch.
If an agency misses the Sept. 30 deadline to award an EIS task order, GSA officials have said the agency will increase its efforts with that agency to move to EIS and will work directly with that agency to see how it can aid in the transition. On March 31, 2020, the GSA will limit the use of the extended contracts for agencies that have not made task order awards. According to the GSA, by March 31, 2022, 90 percent of agencies’ telecom inventory must be off current contracts and moved to EIS. And on May 31, 2023, current Networx, WITS and LSA telecom contracts expire.
As Federal News Network notes, the Office of Management and Budget has pushed agencies to undertake IT modernization via EIS through approaches such as managed services and software-defined networking.
“We are really working with our industry partners to bring the types of things that are out there on the commercial side. For example, software-defined wide area networks are some of the capabilities we are bringing to bear through EIS,” Hill said, according to Federal News Network. “Today’s network is not what we need to support the Cloud Smart initiative. We have to create a network that is based on cloud technology and that is going to take a heavy lift to do that and it will take time.”
EIS is expected to extend until 2032. Technology will continually be updated and refreshed under the vehicle, and the contract also builds in time at the end for a transition to a new vehicle.
How Agencies Are Approaching Network Modernization
Agencies face two clear choices when using EIS to upgrade. One is a “like for like” transition, in which agencies would move to services under EIS that are similar to those they use now. The other route is “modernization,” in which agencies would jump forward technologically to solutions such as SDN and 5G wireless networks. GSA is pushing agencies to embrace technology modernization.
“True modernization is the only way to realize true cost savings for our taxpayers. That is the number one goal for every agency. They just can’t break the mission in the process,” Hill said, according to Federal News Network. “They may transition some services as-is for now, but I can assure you that every single agency’s goal is to reduce the cost. They have to reduce their spending on their IT services.”
Hill said agencies are seeing savings of between 15 percent and 50 percent or more depending on the service they are contracting for under EIS.
“We need to get a lot more innovative than just transitioning to the new technologies. That is where software-defined networking will play an important role because the way data transverses the network for cloud services is not the same way it does for a tradition network,” Hill said, Federal News Network reports.
Notably, Hill said agencies have revised their EIS transition plans in recent months to focus on mission success. “We shouldn’t get tied to technology. That is the first thing that happens that IT folks do, talk about the technology and not the business needs,” Hill said. “We need to focus on the business needs because the technology will change out and the business needs will stay the same.”
Those changes are part of the reason some agencies are going to miss the Sept. 30 deadline.
“We’ve talked at an executive level with agencies. I talked to one agency and they realized they didn’t have the modernization incorporated in their solicitation that they needed. They said let’s make sure we do this right and they pulled it back,” Hill said, according to Federal News Network. “They have now incorporated that type of modernization. That’s important because we don’t want to put something out there that is like-for-like because it defeats the whole purpose of this transition.”