Services reinvigorated GSA schedules program

When GSA added services to Schedule 70, it changed agencies' perception of the program and opened a new market for government contractors.

The government market changed rapidly in the 1990s, and technological advances outpaced many officials’ understanding of them.

Agencies found they needed more than the ability to buy hardware and software — they needed a way to buy the services of someone who understood how the technologies worked.

The General Services Administration’s answer was to add information technology services to the IT products it offered on the Multiple Award Schedules program’s Schedule 70.

The move led to an explosion of sales on Schedule 70, which now handles about $17 billion in transactions annually.

GSA allowed agencies to buy as much or as little support as they needed. The new services made the program invaluable to agencies and changed how GSA’s customers viewed the program.

Part of the impetus was agencies’ interest in revamping and expanding their IT infrastructure in the 1990s as new technologies offered appetizing features, such as connecting to the Internet and sharing information quickly among agencies.

But officials knew they also needed help with their technology updates.

“Without a knowledge base, you couldn’t knowledgably purchase products,” said Hope Lane, officer of government contracts consulting at Aronson and Co.

Through the schedules program, GSA establishes long-term governmentwide contracts with companies to provide supplies and services. It processes more than 11 million transactions annually. And Schedule 70 is by far GSA’s largest schedule.

Its success and agencies’ increasing demand for services contracts attracted many significant players to the federal IT marketplace, said Larry Allen, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

The schedules program had chugged along for decades by selling commodities, but the decision to sell services blasted sales to another level.

Many companies created business units that specialized in GSA schedule sales as they saw their customers flock to the program for its speed and flexibility.

GSA first offered a total IT solution to agencies in the late 1990s, and the range of services contracts expanded from 1999 to 2003, Lane said.

“It just went on and on and on,” she said.

A new world opened when GSA began offering professional services, particularly with the establishment of the Mission Oriented Business Integrated Services schedule for management and consulting services.

Agencies also liked that the schedules program allowed them to choose as much as they needed instead of buying an entire package.

“The schedules ended up being a little bit more nimble” than the governmentwide acquisition contracts, Allen said. And as a result, many agencies abandoned those IT contracts and turned to the schedules.

Allen said GSA officials were inspired by NASA’s first iteration of the Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA, an innovative approach to outsourcing desktop computing and communications support.

“GSA [officials] realized they could do it, too,” he said.

When GSA gave agencies the ability to buy a total solution from its schedules program, it completely changed federal customers’ view of the program, Lane said. It was no longer a store that sold commodities and products — it was a tool that could solve their problems.