WASHINGTON — More than half of federal agencies surveyed have not kept pace in replacing expiring telecommunications contracts, which could cost the government millions of dollars, an official from the Government Accountability Office told a House Oversight subcommittee Wednesday.
Preliminary results showed that in October 11 of 19 surveyed agencies had no plan to meet milestones laid by the General Services Administration, information technology and cybersecurity director Carol C. Harris testified.
The GAO also found only five agencies had implemented procedures established by the GSA to help agencies transition to new systems.
The last time federal agencies attempted a widespread transfer of telecommunication contracts in 2007, the transition ran 33 months longer than intended and cost the GSA an additional $66.4 million.
The current contracts are set to run through May 2023; the GSA has already extended deadlines twice.
Harris later said while the GAO had not estimated additional costs if agencies failed to meet the GSA’s final deadline, past overruns suggested a cost overrun of “hundreds of millions of dollars” among all agencies.
The GAO said widespread lack of preparation was the cause for the overruns in 2007; this time, Harris said, the GSA had done its part while agencies were failing to keep up.
“The onus is on the agencies to get their house in order,” Harris said.
Members of the Government Operations Subcommittee t pressed Harris and GSA officials on how to effectively enforce the GSA’s deadlines.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., complained there was no way to compel agency personnel to comply with the GSA.
“We have no accountability. No one’s head rolls if they don’t meet these deadlines,” Speier said.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., went further to suggest “appropriations consequences,” including penalties to personnel funds, if an agency ran up costs by failing to meet the deadline.
Harris declined to suggest specific penalties for the agencies, saying there was no “silver bullet” to hold them accountable. She suggested agencies could establish a single point of contact with the GSA, preferably at the executive level, to keep the telecommunications transition on track.
William Zielinski, GSA assistant commissioner for IT, said the GSA would begin to limit the ability of agencies to acquire new services from their current telecommunications providers on March 31. He said several agencies, including the Social Security Administration and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, had entered new contracts, though they had not transitioned to new providers yet.
Officials did not address cybersecurity concerns if agencies continue to use outdated systems, though Zielinski said transitioning to more modern telecommunications would naturally lead to better security.