Second Chance

Scandal-plagued telecommunications company WorldCom, currently doing business under its old name, MCI, may find itself back in the good graces of the government, now that a key contract is coming up for renewal.

MCI currently holds a place on FTS 2001, the government's biggest contract for long-distance phone service, which is managed by the General Services Administration. By Jan. 10, GSA must decide whether to renew the contract for one year or to terminate MCI.

But that's not the only decision GSA has to make, and it's certainly not the most politically difficult.

The agency also has proposed debarring MCI as a contractor in light of its business and ethical failings. Debarment would prohibit MCI from competing for any government work and from winning contract renewals.

Now the clock is ticking. If GSA lifts the proposed debarment, not only could MCI get the long distance contract renewed, but the company would be allowed back into the government market entirely. GSA has come under pressure from consumer groups who say any company with a history of abuses such as MCI shouldn't be winning government contracts, particularly when they add up to hundreds of millions of dollars annually, as they have in MCI's case.

Federal agencies have been instructed to limit contracts with companies that have been proposed for debarment. GSA has considered that step with other telecom firms, including Sprint and Qwest Communications.

Mary Alice Johnson, a GSA spokeswoman, said that the agency would make a decision on debarment before midnight Jan. 10, when action must be taken on FTS 2001. The agency sent a letter to MCI government markets chief Jerry Edgerton in November saying that the agency would renew the contract should MCI's "responsibility status improve."

In the meantime, MCI is keeping mum. A company spokeswoman referred all queries to GSA.

Communication Breakdown The Defense Department's system for buying use of commercial communications satellites-which have become an indispensable part of the U.S. military machine-is flawed, mismanaged and could ultimately be costing the Pentagon millions of dollars, according to a new General Accounting Office report.

With the emergence of new battlefield technologies, particularly unmanned aerial drones and communications devices that let soldiers stay in verbal and video contact with commanders, the military's consumption of satellite bandwidth has skyrocketed. Defense officials estimate that the military used 10 times the bandwidth in the recent Iraq war than it did during the Gulf War in the early 1990s.

But the process for procuring all that satellite capacity is too costly, and it needs to change, according to the report (GAO-04-206). Not only does the Pentagon not know how much money it is spending, in most cases purchases are taking nearly three months to complete, GAO auditors found.

According to industry estimates, the military spends between $300 million and $500 million annually for satellite bandwidth. The Defense Department, however, doesn't have a precise figure because the procurement outfit doing most of its buying is "hampered by oversight and management weaknesses," the GAO found.

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) collects orders for bandwidth from the military services and then farms them out to industry. The process itself is apparently fair, and has helped the military get reliable service. But requirements for DISA to report its purchases haven't been enforced, GAO found, and as a result, no one really knows how much the military is spending.

In addition, orders take, on average, about 79 days to complete, despite the fact that DISA tells its customers that the normal turnaround time is less than 50 days. DISA's military customers told GAO that they have to spend additional time making sure their bandwidth orders meet detailed technical requirements, often requiring DISA employees to spend "substantial amounts of time educating" customers on how to submit a request.

In some cases, the customers have made an end run around the procurement shop, buying bandwidth on their own. The Navy told the auditors that by cutting DISA out of one order, the service managed to save almost $5 million over five years.

GAO's findings came as no surprise to the satellite owners and operators. Many of those companies have been lobbying the Pentagon to buy bandwidth in longer-term contracts, rather than purchasing it on the so-called "spot market" on an ad hoc basis, where it's more expensive.

Now those companies have some official data to back up their claims. David Helfgott, president and chief executive of Americom Government Services, called GAO's "a much-needed roadmap for reform." Americom manages a fleet of nearly four dozen satellites, and is one of a growing number of companies that have targeted the military market as the biggest growth sector in the commercial satellite industry.

The GAO auditors recommended that the Pentagon's chief information officer, John Stenbit, develop a strategic plan to correct DISA's weaknesses. He has done so, and a review is ongoing. However, DISA officials declined to discuss it.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.