GSA could be trying to kill rival agency contract

GSA urged procurement officials to deny the NIH its GWAC authority, raising an old question.

UPDATE: This story was updated Friday morning with new comments from Joanne Woytek, program manager of NASA Solutions for Enterprisewide Procurements contract.

The General Services Administration seems to again be pushing to be the only provider of governmentwide acquisition contracts. The agency's GWAC director is trying to get the Office of Federal Procurement policy to strip GWAC authority from the National Institues of Health, according to Joanne Woytek, program manager at NASA’s own Solutions for Enterprisewide Procurements GWAC, wrote today on FCW.com.

Woytek reported this in a posting to Harvard professor and FCW blogger Steve Kelman's Facebook wall, and Kelman in turn based a blog entry on it.

Woytek said Friday morning that she has not been contaced by GSA or OFPP about rescinding NASA GWAC authority.


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Officials from NIH’s Information Technology Assessment and Acquisition Center  are slated to meet soon with Dan Gordon, OFPP administrator, to discuss a request he recevied to remove NIH’s Chief Information Officer-Solutions and Partners contract from the list of GWACs, according to Kelman.

Woytek said in her Facebook posting that she thinks GSA will try the same maneuver with SEWP when it comes up for renewal in 2012. Her Facebook posting and comment on Kelman’s blog were just “heads up” that she wanted to pass on to him, she said Friday.

Overall GSA’s move, which is not the first attempt by the agency, raises the question of whether the government has too many GWACs, multiple-award contacts and indefinite-delivery/indefinite/quantity contracts, and if they have started overlap.

Experts are split on the decision.

Competition among contract vehicles, including the alternative default contracts inside each agency, promotes customer service and innovation, like competition in other markets, Kelman wrote. When GSA had a monopoly on the government contracting business, it also had poor customer service and little innovation when it had a monopoly on the government buying market, Kelman -- himself a former OFPP administrator -- wrote.

Martha Johnson, GSA’s administrator, agreed in a recent speech at FOSE 2010, saying GSA didn’t know how to spell “marketing” when agencies were required to buy from GSA. Competition has force GSA to improve on its innovation and customer service.

However, other experts say there are too many GWACs that are selling much of the same items, especially commodity IT products. As a result, it creates inefficiencies in government operations.

Woytek disagreed with this characterization, saying there are only two commodity GWACs – SEWP and NIH’s Electronic Computer Store.

Bob Woods, president of Topside Consulting and a former GSA commissioner, said agencies should let the larger organizations, such as GSA, handle the commodities. Then the agency can allow employees in their contracting shops to attend to the agency’s unique purchases.

“Competition isn’t as important if you’re not taking care of the basics of business,” he said.

Furthermore, agencies can save money by paying the GSA’s 0.75 percent fee upfront to get general products, instead of launching their own contracts to get the same things, he said.

SEWP’s fee is 0.5, which would be even greater savings for agencies than using GSA’s vehicles, Woytek said.

At the same time, the government may be paying higher prices because of too many contracts

Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at FedSources, said companies believe they should be on each of the contracts to have access to a lot of business. But it creates more work and more divisions inside a company to deal with each contract’s specific requirements, such as reporting information.

As companies submit more bids and pour more resources into getting a chance to even compete for the work, costs can increase for the govenrment, he said.

Today, the marketplace has changed dramatically since the 1990s when agencies were first given the chance to start up their own contracts, he said. Now, most agencies have settled on their client, and industry is advanced enough to handle more complex work. The government now should consider GSA’s move several years ago to merge two different GWACs and create the Alliant GWAC for IT products and services. While there were some bumps along the GWAC's way with bid protests and court cases, the principle is fine, he said.

Now, the acquisition community is waiting for officials in OFPP, who have the authority to deny an agency its GWAC status, to decide how it plans to address the issue of too many contracts or more competition.

“I wish OFPP would take a leadership position and reconcile this issue of GWACs and multiple-agency contracts,” Bjorklund said.

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