American Telephone & Telegraph Co. has charged that the General Services Administration's response to a challenge from the company concerning a $55 million equipment contract award has been "seriously inadequate" and suggested the agency may be trying to delay resolution of the case.

AT&T's contention came in a document filed with the Board of Contract Appeals in response to a GSA request that consideration of AT&T's complaint be suspended pending an inquiry by GSA's inspector general into the contract.

"The board must be certain that an investigation is not being used as a vehicle by which to forestall resolution of the protest," AT&T said in its filing, which questioned the timing of the GSA's move.

The board yesterday granted GSA's request for a suspension, putting aside AT&T's complaint for two weeks.

In a separate filing yesterday, GSA said that continuing proceedings in AT&T's complaint "could possibly prejudice any potential criminal prosecution that may result from the IG's investigation."

"It is the government which stands to suffer the most injury from delay," the GSA said, rejecting AT&T's contention that it might be purposely seeking delay. "It is costing GSA an estimated $156,000 a day more than the agency would pay if the protested awards were implemented."

The contract at issue, awarded in October, was for 12 telephone call-switching centers for the in-house phone network of the federal government.

Worth $55 million over 2 1/2 years, the contract is intended to upgrade the current system pending awarding of contracts for an entirely new federal telecommunications system, known as FTS-2000. Members of the telecommunications industry are watching the resolution of the switching contract closely because it involves the same agency that will handle the much larger FTS-2000 deal.

AT&T won rights to provide five of the switching centers. But it later complained formally to the board, which is an independent body that settles disputes over GSA contracting, that its bid had been evaluated under different standards than those used for its competitors.

In its filing Friday, AT&T alleged that GSA had been dragging its feet on its complaint in the legal process of discovery, in which the two sides of a dispute probe each other for information before trial. "GSA's discovery responses in this proceeding have been seriously inadequate," the company said. "Interrogatory answers have been submitted and remain unsworn despite protester's {AT&T's} repeated requests."

"No one is willing to put their names on them that they're accurate," Louis C. Golm, AT&T's vice president for federal systems, said in an interview yesterday. "... We don't think they have been terribly cooperative."

"Key evaluation documents were omitted from the protest file," the company filing said. "Other important documents responsive to discovery requests have not been produced." AT&T asked that GSA give an explanation for its request to suspend the proceedings.

In its filing, GSA yesterday assured AT&T that the information referred to the inspector general had not been in its hands when AT&T filed its complaint. The company Friday said that if GSA had had the information at that time, the timing of the GSA's motion would be "highly suspect."

"No information has been provided to explain why this motion was made at this particular time, just as AT&T was beginning to depose {question} key government witnesses," the company said in its filing.