GSA to solicit bids for managing wireless purchases

Effort is aimed at helping agencies get better deals on wireless services.

The General Services Administration plans to release a solicitation for governmentwide wireless device management next month, according to an agency official.

The solicitation will seek bids from companies interested in managing agency procurements for, and ongoing use of, wireless services such as cell phones and Blackberrys, said Mary Davie, acting assistant commissioner for customer accounts and research in GSA's Federal Acquisition Service. Contract awards, many of them to small businesses, should be made within six months, she said.

"This is not a procurement that is focused on procuring the actual service through a service provider," Davie said. Rather, it will be for companies that can centralize mobile device purchasing, service plans and billing.

Some agencies buy mobile voice and text services and devices through several providers and a variety of plans, even for employees within a single building. A study conducted as part of the Office of Management and Budget's strategic sourcing effort to encourage agencies to analyze buying patterns to negotiate better deals found that agencies rarely have a centralized way to keep track of wireless device expenditures.

"Nobody really has it under their purview to pay attention closely to how the devices are being used," Davie said. "You're expending lots of resources internally on having people procure devices, managing those devices, managing plans [and] trying to review bills."

GSA is using a Transportation Security Administration procurement for managed wireless services -- worth about $38 million and awarded in February to iSYS LLC of McLean, Va. -- as a model. The procurement is projected to save TSA an estimated 30 percent to 40 percent on its annual wireless bill.

Nonetheless, considerable uncertainty has swirled around GSA's procurement for wireless management services since the agency announced it Sept. 5. Observers of federal telecommunications have wondered whether the initiative will clash with others, such as Networx, GSA's massive governmentwide telecommunications procurement.

Networx bidders must provide mobile telephone services. As a result, it appears that the "government is introducing another conflicting channel for agencies to buy wireless services," said Warren Suss, president of Jenkintown, Pa.-based Suss Consulting Inc. GSA's wireless strategic sourcing initiative "is not only a duplication, it is also a distraction and may provide some confusion in the marketplace," both for government buyers and vendors, he said.

Davie acknowledged that there has been confusion about GSA's efforts, but said the procurement should result in more efficient agency processes for buying wireless services through contract vehicles such as Networx.

But, Suss said, no contract vehicle by itself will solve wireless redundancy problems within the federal government. "There's a lot of transformational activity required by the agencies," he said.

Improved management of wireless services leaves the door open for when wireless technology is finally able to replace wired connections at the local level, Davie said. Though the wireless revolution may not have caught on as quickly as some analysts once predicted, most agree it's only a matter of time before most data and voice transmission is completed locally without wires.

Many have pinned their hopes on WiMax, a wireless broadband technology standard that would allow service within a miles-long radius. Others note that the standard has remained unstable, and it has been hyped by some vendors with an interest in its success.

"I don't think you want to want until WiMax goes on in a big way until you start to coordinate your wireless purchasing," Suss said. "There's lots of opportunity to improve the way the government buys wireless service."

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