The probe into allegations of wrongdoing in the awarding of a $55 million contract to upgrade the federal government's long-distance telephone system has widened, with the Justice Department being asked to review the case.
Disclosure of the action yesterday comes two weeks after an announcement that the inspector general of the General Services Administration had begun an investigation into unspecified allegations concerning the contract. Probes by the inspector general normally involve questions of criminal misconduct.
The telecommunications industry is watching the proceedings closely because the contract was handled by the same wing of the GSA that is to award contracts worth billions of dollars for a new federal long-distance system called FTS-2000.
GSA spokesman Joe Slye declined to elaborate on the request for a Justice Department review, but said, "It's not necessarily a finding of any kind. It's not a signal." A spokesman said the Justice Department had no comment.
The case that Justice has been asked to review involves the awarding of contracts in October to provide 12 computerized switching centers as a stop-gap measure pending the installation of FTS-2000.
American Telephone & Telegraph Co. won contracts to provide five of those switches. But it filed a formal protest with the Board of Contract Appeals, which settles disputes on government contracting, saying that GSA had unfairly evaluated its bid.
Proceedings to resolve that complaint were in progress when GSA two weeks ago asked the board to suspend them because the inspector general had begun an inquiry.
The two might conflict, GSA said in a filing to the board, which granted the request.
AT&T subsequently said that GSA officials' response in those proceedings had been "seriously inadequate" and that the board should be sure the suspension was not being used to delay resolving AT&T's complaint.
That suspension was to have ended yesterday. GSA lawyers yesterday requested, however, that the suspension be extended to Dec. 8 and disclosed that the Justice Department has been asked to review the matter.