Sep 25 2020

HHS Looks to Save Money with Consolidated EIS Network Contract

The agency’s approach to the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions network modernization contract could serve as a model for others, and the clock is ticking on the transition.

The Department of Health and Human Services is taking a unique approach to modernizing its networks under the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract vehicle.

In August, HHS consolidated 11 different contract opportunities under the General Service Administration’s EIS contract into a single award for the whole department, which went to Verizon. Over the 12-year life of the new contract, HHS estimate that the agency could save roughly $700 million compared with alternative arrangements and older contracts, according to a blog post from Eric Hargan, HHS’ deputy secretary, and Scott Rowell, assistant secretary for administration at HHS.

HHS’ approach could serve as a model for other agencies, especially larger ones with different operating divisions. “At a lot of agencies, what you’re seeing is separate contracts where they’ll set up a task order and then they’ll do another task order and another task order,” Andrea Cohen, vice president of civilian sales for Verizon Federal, tells FedScoop. “Honestly what HHS did, while very complex, is incredibly efficient and cost-effective.”

The HHS award comes as some agencies have issued task orders over the past few months for EIS. However, agencies overall are behind the pace on issuing task orders and transitioning to EIS to modernize their network infrastructure and services.

HHS Gains Efficiencies with EIS Contract Approach

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 2018, the GSA extended the deadline to 2023 to give agencies more time to switch.

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.

If HHS had not consolidated its EIS contract opportunities into one contract, it would have needed to create separate multiple program management offices just to manage those contracts, Hargan and Rowell write.

In 2019, Rowell’s office, the HHS CIO’s office and a dedicated acquisitions reform team, ReImagine HHS’s Buy Smarter initiative, “called together technical leads from the various HHS divisions to determine what path forward made sense,” the blog post notes.

HHS concluded that it could and should achieve cost savings by consolidating, a “complex task that demands a lot of teamwork,” they write.

$700 million

The amount of money HHS estimates it could save on its EIS contract

Source: "How Common Sense and Hard Work Saved Taxpayers Hundreds of Millions on HHS IT Contracts," Aug. 28, 2020

“A great deal of work was needed to put together a contracting solicitation that met the needs of all the different HHS divisions, which include regulatory agencies like the FDA, research institutions like the NIH, healthcare providers at the Indian Health Service, and one of the world’s largest healthcare payers, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services,” Hargan and Rowell write.

HHS needed to identify each operating division’s network needs and went through multiple rounds of negotiations with potential vendors. HHS used its buying power to drive costs down, they write. HHS also gained benefits beyond cost savings.

“Earlier this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, HHS systems came under sustained cyberattacks, which we fought off successfully,” they write. “As a consequence, we decided the department needed to move to new systems to secure our networks.”

HHS also expects to be able to adopt new network technologies more quickly. “That transition is still in process, but it has happened faster and more easily because we began consolidating EIS contracts,” Hargan and Rowell write. “Looking ahead, as the federal government moves ahead with technology advances like 5G and VoIP phones, we can implement improvements across HHS faster because of our unified EIS approach.”

READ MORE: Find out how the Justice Department is approaching network modernization.

Agencies Are Behind on EIS Transition

Although agencies have made some progress on issuing EIS task orders, as a whole, they are behind pace on transitioning to the new contract. As Nextgov reports, the latest scorecard evaluating agencies’ compliance with the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act included data on the percentage of task orders that have been moved off legacy telecom contracts. The average across all 24 agencies measured is roughly 41 percent and the median is about 37 percent.

“They’re behind in where they need to be in order to make the transition on time,” Carol Harris, the director of the Government Accountability Office’s IT and cybersecurity team, tells Nextgov.

The slow transition pace isn’t abnormal, Harris tells Nextgov, but it does raise cause for concern, since a slow transition to EIS will leave agencies using more costly and less modern network technology.

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