GSA may have to start over on governmentwide cellphone plan

By Joseph Marks

September 25, 2012

A decision posted Tuesday by the Office of the Comptroller General could complicate the government’s goal of saving billions of dollars by consolidating contracts for mobile phone services.

The General Services Administration failed to prove that several vendor requirements it included in its Wireless Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative were standard fare in commercial contracts, the Government Accountability Office said.

Those included requirements to allow agencies to pool cellphone minutes to avoid overage charges and to turn off international roaming charges for federal customers working near the Mexican and Canadian borders.

The decision is not binding for GSA, which could choose to move forward with its solicitation as written. As of 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, GSA had not told Nextgov whether it planned to reissue the procurement.

The wireless initiative, similar to other GSA schedules, is aimed at compiling a list of go-to vendors that federal agencies can purchase wireless services from at fixed rates without negotiating one-off contracts. Those services include buying smartphones, cellphones and tablets, as well as service and data plans and other infrastructure such as security services.

Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel has ordered agencies to consolidate as much of their information technology spending as possible, including wireless services, as part of his Federal Digital Strategy.

The Agriculture Department, which was an early adopter of consolidating its wireless services, is saving roughly $400,000 per month from the effort. Delays in implementing GSA’s wireless schedule could severely restrict other agencies’ ability to achieve similar savings.

Tuesday’s decision followed a protest from wireless provider Verizon. In addition to its pooling and roaming complaints, Verizon said GSA went outside common commercial practices with two other provisions.

One of those provisions required vendors that offer one government customer a discount price of 10 percent or more below the blanket purchase agreement to match that price for other government customers. The other provision required vendors to match the blanket purchase agreement price for any customer that is eligible to purchase wireless services under the agreement but had purchased those services in some other way.

The comptroller general agreed with Verizon that GSA had not sufficiently proved those provisions were common in commercial contracts and recommended GSA reimburse Verizon the cost of its protest.

“Verizon Wireless has been honored to provide wireless services to the federal government under GSA contracts since our inception,” Todd Loccisano, executive director of contracts for Verizon Wireless, said after the decision. “We look forward to the opportunity to continue providing eligible users of GSA contracts with the best commercial services available.”

By Joseph Marks

September 25, 2012