Oct 19 2021

How Much Progress Are Federal Agencies Making on Network Modernization?

Many are lagging on transitioning to a new network architecture under a critical General Services Administration contract.

In recent weeks, several large federal agencies have issued task orders under a governmentwide network modernization contract. However, there is growing concern that agencies are not making sufficient progress in transitioning their network assets to operate under the new contract in the face of looming deadlines.

The General Services Administration’s $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract, or EIS, replaces the existing Networx contract and is designed to let agencies modernize their networks, especially via technologies such as software-defined networking and 5G.

Agencies had been required to transition away from the Networx contracting vehicle to EIS by spring 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 100 percent must be moved to EIS by Sept. 30, 2022. Current Networx, WITS and Local Service Agreement telecom contracts expire on May 31, 2023.

Despite the extensions, many agencies are not on track to meet the new deadlines. FedScoop reports that 50 agencies — including 12 of the 24 Chief Financial Officers Act agencies — had completed 50 percent of their transition to EIS, according to the GSA’s monthly EIS Transition Progress Tracking Report dashboard for August, the latest data available.

Allen Hill, who has been managing the transition for the GSA as the deputy assistant commissioner for category management in GSA’s Office of Information Technology Category, said recently that the network vendors working on the contract are “rightfully concerned” that some agencies won’t meet the 2022 deadlines.

The vendors, he told FedScoop in late September, “do not expect them to be able to make it in such a short period of time because we’re talking about years of network infrastructure out there” that must be moved to EIS contracts over the next year.

Agencies Reach Agreements on Network Modernization Plans

In the past few weeks, several large and midsize agencies have either issued task orders under EIS for various network modernization projects or updated their progress for doing so.

  • The Labor Department issued $887 million worth of task orders to Verizon to substantially modernize its network infrastructure, Nextgov reports. “They involve efforts to fully revamp DOL’s IT infrastructure and network architecture, improve its audio and web conferencing services, and support the deployment of unified communications services spanning the department’s thousands of end-users, among other tasks,” the publication notes.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development made three task orders with a total potential value of $97.8 million, FCW reports, including for data support services for its CIO office and managed trusted internet protocol services (MTIPS) for the Government National Mortgage Association.
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects to complete its transition to EIS by the end of 2021, FedScoop reports, and has embraced multiprotocol label switching, unified collaboration and wireless technologies.

RELATED: What do you need to know about software-defined networking?

Agencies Need to Make More Progress on EIS Transitions

Despite the issuing of recent task orders, many agencies are lagging in their transitions to EIS.

“We’re behind,” Hill told FedScoop. “There’s about 7 million services still remaining on the legacy contracts to transition. So that’s a lot of inventory to move. And we have right now still remaining… 66 solicitations that still have no task order words as of July 31,” noting that there are some contract awards since then that have not been reported.

Hill said that the GSA extended the deadline to transition to EIS to give agencies more time to make a complex switch, not as a reason to delay awarding new task orders under EIS, as many have done. GSA is working with all agencies to make the switch and help them upgrade their networks.

“We have some agencies that are out there that are completing their transition, which is great,” Hill said. “And they got out there in front and did what they needed to do. But we’re also doing some things to help those agencies that haven’t.”

GSA created the Risk Assessment For Transition (RAFT) working group, which convenes on a biweekly basis to “help agencies make a realistic assessment of how long their transition will take.”

GSA is developing a contingency plan to keep services running if agencies miss transition deadlines. “The RAFT provides really more of a best-case scenario for them, the perfect-world type scenario that if you did all these things, this is the timeframe,” Hill said. “And even going through that process, agencies are like, ‘Whoa, it’s going to take some time.’”

“It takes time to replace those old technologies with new technologies,” Hill told FedScoop.

He added that “we also have to be concerned about where we’re at today with the pandemic, there are challenges with supply.”

However, GSA is not going to offer agencies another extension. “There are no plans to change any dates,” he said. “When we have special mission requirements that need special support, we address those things in a separate fashion. But we’re not going to change any dates.”

DIVE DEEPER: Learn everything you need to know before installing SD-WAN at your agency.

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