GSA reorg plan clouded
IT companies support mission but Congress slows progress
- By Jason Miller, Roseanne Gerin
- Aug 14, 2005
"We focused on strengthening things to make sure we have management controls that are consistent and people who are accountable." ? GSA Administrator Stephen Perry
Zaid Hamid/Special to Washington Technology
Industry is voicing cautious optimism about the General Services Administration's plans to reorganize and consolidate its purchasing management, but Congress could delay the agency's action.
The Senate, in particular, is holding up GSA's merger of its Federal Technology and Federal Supply services into a single Federal Acquisition Service.
GSA's final plan comes a little more than two months after Capitol Hill, the administration and industry roundly criticized the agency's draft plan. But GSA Administrator Stephen Perry said Aug. 4 that the agency has addressed those concerns.
"We focused on strengthening things to make sure we have management controls that are consistent and people who are accountable," Perry said. "We also made sure the duties of both the national and regional organizations are clear."
Industry applauded the move. "We anticipate the reorganization of GSA will strengthen and enhance its contracting services into a more streamlined and user friendly process," said Brad Antle, president and chief operating officer of SI International Inc. of Reston, Va.
But the delays are less concerned with the specifics of the plan and more about GSA's right to reorganize. The Senate has yet to consider the GSA Modernization Act of 2005, which the lower house passed May 23. GSA needs Congress to authorize the merger of the IT Fund and the General Supply Fund before the FTS and FSS consolidation moves forward, Perry said.
"It would be administratively burdensome if we can't merge those two funds," Perry said. "It's not that we couldn't move forward, but a lot hinges on these funds."
GSA wants to merge the Federal Technology and the Federal Supply services because agencies have changed the way they buy goods and services. No longer do they buy IT, construction or consulting services separately from other services.
The agency's inspector general in 2003 found GSA regional offices abused the IT Fund by buying construction and other non-IT services through it.
"In the 1990s, GSA significantly streamlined the federal acquisition process by creating a set of general schedules that could be easily accessed by a wide spectrum of government agencies," said Jim Ballard, chief operating officer of Perot Systems Government Services Inc. of Herndon, Va. "While the actual dynamics of purchasing goods and services has changed, the government's and industry's need for quick access to governmentwide acquisition contract vehicles remains as strong as ever."
The GSA modernization bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which has not acted on it. The committee's Federal Financial Management, Government Information and International Security subcommittee held a hearing on GSA's procurement process late last month but did not mark up the bill.
The Senate also placed a provision in GSA's appropriations bill, which also includes appropriations for Transportation, Treasury, Judiciary and Housing and Urban Development and related agencies, requiring the approval of the House and Senate Appropriations committees before any money is used to reorganize the agency.
"The Senate wants to make sure GSA and others involved in the federal acquisition process are improving it," Perry said. "Their understanding was if we centralize too much, we might diminish our ability to have effective customer interaction. We've had conversations with the appropriations committee and Senate oversight committee, and believe they are accepting of our effort."
CULTURE SHIFT AHEAD
GSA's new organizational design contains clear lines of accountability and responsibility for the revamped agency, but now GSA must take the next steps in its communications and change management strategies and plan implementation, said Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president and counsel of the Professional Services Council of Washington, which represents the government professional and technical services industry.
But critical operational issues for the standalone organizations and for the new Federal Acquisition Service, or FAS, remain unresolved, Chvotkin said. These issues include ensuring full compliance with laws and regulations, resolving outstanding ambiguities in contract terms and conditions, and ensuring GSA is available as a vendor of choice for the Defense Department and other federal agencies, he said.
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) has been the most vocal critic of GSA's reorganization plan. But Davis, chairman of the Government Reform Committee, reacted to the final strategy with optimism and concern.
"The new organizational units within FAS are a positive step forward in reducing much of the overlap and redundancy," Davis said. "However, we do have some questions about the implementation of the concept of local activities versus centralized acquisition activities."
Davis said he continues to worry over whether the approach has the appropriate management controls over the various regions.
Under the final plan, Perry said GSA's project team tried to balance management controls against customer service needs.
Because there is no way to know when lawmakers will pass the modernization bill or whether they will attach it to another piece of legislation, the timetable to combine the agencies is unclear, Perry said.
"There is active work being done to get the bill passed," he said. "Some items will be implemented relatively quickly, and we have already taken steps in those areas, such as establishing the FAS commissioner. Other parts will take longer to implement."
The reorganization plan includes the creation of five national program units and six regional zones.
National program managers will focus on agencywide issues such as strategic sourcing, ensuring process consistency and developing large governmentwide contracts, including Networx and Alliant. GSA will have a national leader in five areas:
- Customer accounts and research
- Acquisition management
- General supplies and services
- Integrated technology solutions
- Travel, motor vehicle and card services.
Deidre Lee will lead the integrated technology solutions area, which includes telecommunications contracts, governmentwide acquisition contracts, professional services schedules, IT schedules, and program, planning and development.
GSA has put in a "a Herculean effort" with its reorganization plans, said Rosanne Satterfield, senior vice president of IT and engineering provider ITS Corp. of Oxnard, Calif.
The realignment creates "an environment conducive to total integrated solutions by merging the IT fund and the general supply fund," Satterfield said. By consolidating all its major contracts, the reorganization will improve the lines of communications across GSA and industry, she said.
"By merging two huge business lines, FTS and FSS, GSA is tackling a long-standing cultural issue head on, and is leading the way for the rest of government," said Denny Groh, vice president of GSA and GWAC contracts for STG Inc. of Reston, Va.
The six regional zones, which consolidate the 11 regions, will focus on local customer service, Perry said. The Public Buildings Service, however, will remain divided into 11 regions, he said, to more easily meet customer agency building needs.
"Those people working on national programs like GWACs will remain where they are, but will report to a national program manager," Perry said. "Those working on program delivery will report to the regional administrator for that zone."
But GSA's plan to clearly delineate the regional and national program managers' jobs drew criticism from Davis.
"We remain concerned that the regional management structure may not correct the lack of coordination between national and regional offices," he said. "We are not sure that it gives regional executives the appropriate reporting authority to improve the acquisition practices within the new zones."
Jason Miller is an assistant managing editor at Government Computer News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff Writer Roseanne Gerin can be reached at email@example.com.