Federal acquisition officials in the market for 5G to advance cyber modernization and security now have a “shopper’s guide” to assist them.

On Thursday, the General Services Administration issued guidance for government IT managers and contracting officers looking to procure 5G technology that can handle classified information.

“5G networks have the potential to be faster, more reliable, and serve many more devices — and could provide infrastructure to help with everything from smart buildings to telemedicine,” said Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner Sonny Hashmi, in a statement. “We’re pleased to be issuing this guidance to ensure that government can make the most of secure 5G in its efforts to deliver for the American people.”

Fifth-generation, or 5G, is the latest broadband cellular network standard, which is highly customizable and rapidly shares data between devices. It’s also a booming industry worth 22 million jobs and potentially trillions of dollars in goods and services transactions by 2035, according to Qualcomm, a semiconductor company.

The Trump administration ordered the federal government to regulate, in part, the security of this technology and urge a national strategy for implementing the modern mobile telecommunications system. GSA is taking up that charge by giving federal agencies some guidelines for pursuing 5G contracts with industry.

Some 90% of federal agencies are planning to adopt 5G, according to a 2022 study by General Dynamics Information Technology.

The Department of Defense, which spent more $600 million on prototyping 5G at initial sites in 2020, has at least a dozen projects being tested at installations for smart warehousing, virtual reality training and remote engineering. More generally, 5G in government could including using robots in search-and-rescue operations or high-definition security video streams in a building.

While working groups within GSA have identified 5G uses within reach for federal agencies, the technology is expensive. And with 5G also comes cyber threats that agencies will have to account for.

For example, 5G built on older technology that isn’t totally secured could render the entire network vulnerable. There’s also limited competition in certain parts of the marketplace, meaning there’s more proprietary equipment and fewer choices for buyers.

Those security concerns helped shape the guidance GSA issued on March 30 to make plain the best procurement vehicles for federal agencies that include pre-vetted contractors.

The acquisition process for 5G technology is generally the same as for other complex IT, GSA said. Agencies can procure 5G through commercial contracts, other transaction authorities or non-commercial negotiated acquisitions. Agencies can seek separate contracts for the technology or orders under existing indefinite-delivery/indefinite quantity contracts.

Only 11 federal agencies can use other transaction authorities that are not subject to acquisition regulations for the sake of being able to quickly jump on new technology.

Agencies with Congressional authorization are: the Advanced Research Projects Agency, DoD, the Department of Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the Transportation Security Administration.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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