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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tea time

Oh, please. I just finished reading an article in eSchoolNews about the award of a contract for information systems administrator to SAIC, which also gets millions of dollars in E-Rate money as a service provider. Apparently several other service providers are incensed over a potential conflict of interest, since SAIC would have access to information in USAC's systems. It's a tempest in a teapot.

We all have access to most of the information in USAC's systems. The Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) lets you download information from the 471, 486 and 472/474. There is a similar tool for downloading info from the 470. What info would SAIC have access to that are not publicly available?
  1. Contact info from the 471, 486 and 472
  2. Info on individual invoices (472 or 474), rather than the annual total currently available through the DRT
  3. Item 21 Attachments

None of that info is that valuable. Contact info is available through a little research, or from any number of marketing firms. Individual invoice amounts is of little consequence.

The service providers seemed to focus on the possibility that seeing the Item 21 Attachments would be an unfair advantage. Wrong. How would seeing the Item 21s be an advantage? If SAIC sees an applicant with a large contract with a competitor that they'd like to steal, rather than peak at the Item 21, they can just wait until the next 470 is posted and go after the business like everyone else. The information in the Item 21 is not going to be as good as the info they'll get from the applicant during the 470 process.

Of course, USAC could short-circuit this discussion by making Item 21 Attachments publicly available. Which would be a good move.

I know that USAC put out an RFP for this contract, and I trust they have picked the most cost-effective vendor, with price the primary factor. I don't want more of the program's funds spent on administrative costs just so some service providers can have a flimsy veil over the terms of their contracts, which, since we're talking about public schools and libraries, are public information. (And if SAIC, sub-contracting from Solix, is responsible for the significant improvement in USAC's online tools, then I'm overjoyed to see them take on more.)

Anyway, I like this set-up better than the original one, where a not-for-profit subsidiary of the telco's lobbying group gave the contracts to a for-profit subsidiary of the same lobbying group.

A final comment on a different tangent: As usual, most of the service providers demanded anonymity. It is shameful that this program still inspires so much fear that no one wants to publicly say anything negative. But secrecy breeds fear, and the level of secrecy in this program is astonishing.

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