GAO: New Government Contract for Commercial Satcom Could Lower DOD Costs

GAO: New Government Contract for Commercial Satcom Could Lower DOD Costs

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report today that reviews the current state of the fixed communications satellite marketplace and how the government acquires commercial communications satellite services. The landscape has changed significantly over the decade since Congress passed the ORBIT Act in 2000. GAO focuses on how today’s environment affects how much the government, and the Department of Defense (DOD) in particular, pay for such services.

DOD has a sizeable communications satellite fleet of its own, but its communications appetite is voracious. A significant amount of unclassified DOD traffic is routed over commercial communications satellites, especially in support of Central Command operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In its report, GAO cites DOD statistics that its use of commercial communications satellite bandwidth grew by more than 180 percent in the Middle East and Africa between 2003 and 2009.

Until recently, three satellite service providers held a three-year contract with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to resell commercial communications capacity to DOD through a contract dubbed DSTS-G. GAO said the contract was “a total set-aside for competition restricted to small business concerns.” Other government agencies acquired these services through a separate contract administered by the General Services Administration (GSA).

DISA and GSA now have joined forces to create the Federal Commercial Satellite Communications Services Acquisition (FCSA) program. FCSA allows satellite operators as well as satellite service providers to supply capacity directly to DOD. GAO reported that federal contracting officials expect the increased competition to lower costs. Vendors may continually be added to the list of qualified contractors.

The GAO report did make any recommendations. It does provide an interesting review of the commercial communications satellites sector and how it has changed since the ORBIT Act, which forced the privatization of Intelsat and Inmarsat and led to the demise of COMSAT.

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