GSA Adds Sales Force To Improve Procurement

GSA Adds Sales Force To Improve Procurement<@VM>GSA: 80 Agencies Aboard FTS2001

Dendy Young

By Jennifer Freer, Staff Writer

The General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service is expanding efforts to make it easier and cheaper for government agencies to purchase goods and services.

Adding to its electronic commerce initiatives and online reverse auction, the GSA recently created a sales force aimed at drawing more business to GSA contract vehicles.

"The sales office is our attempt to develop a center of expertise that can be used by other government agencies to understand what is happening with the new way of procuring services," said Mary Whitley, assistant FTS commissioner for sales. "It attempts to make industry partners more available to government agencies and also teaches about the new ways of thinking about buying products and services."

A sales staff was hired in August and is working to build relationships between GSA and government agencies. GSA wants to share its knowledge of what works in government agencies, pass on what has been learned by program offices and answer questions about any new programs.

Whitley's initial staff is 12, with one person in Dallas, one in Denver, two in Heidelberg, Germany, and the rest in Washington.

Before August, the GSA did not have any one person or group responsible for each agency, so the agencies did not have one place to go to have questions answered, Whitley said.

As the GSA continues to create new, streamlined procurement programs, a whole new way of doing business is developing, which is driven by the ability to access government through the Web, Whitley said.

At an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association breakfast Sept. 26, GSA officials discussed some of the initiatives that are changing the marketplace:

? Fed Learn, a Federal Learning Technology Program, is a nonmandatory, fully reimbursable program with the GSA. Fed Learn helps government agencies with distance learning, Web-based learning and computer-based training.

? A Seat Management program was created to help agencies outsource desktop computer services and allows them to focus on core business, improve services to users and keep up with technology.

? Buyers.Gov, an e-government business and auction exchange pilot run by
the FTS to buy and sell products,
consists of three procurement tools. The reverse auction tool allows for
real-time price negotiations to drive prices to market levels. EFAST gives discounts to government agencies that pool their requirements together into one large group. And Quick Quote lets buyers issue a request for quotes from selected sources.

All of these Web-enabled programs are "the wave of the future," said Mike Ligas, director of business development for Sprint Corp.

For Sprint of Westwood, Kan., the new ways of purchasing products and services help the company move forward in its push to become a full-service provider and not just a telecom company, Ligas said.

"There will be more competition in the e-commerce sector of the business. It's inevitable," Ligas said. Sprint, like its competitors AT&T Corp. and WorldCom Inc., is moving beyond just telecommunications. "It's a merging of telecommunications and information technology, forming an integrated market," he said.

With all the services becoming easier and cheaper to buy, doors open for Sprint to make more of its consulting, network management, satellite and cellular services available to the government, Ligas said.

Much of the impetus for change at GSA has come from other government agencies that are developing their own contract vehicles for procuring goods and services, said Dendy Young, chief executive officer for GTSI Corp. of Chantilly, Va.

Some of these contract vehicles offer even more choices than GSA, he said. The National Institutes of Health, for example, awarded the five-year Electronic Computer Store II contract in 1997 to 47 vendors. The contract, worth $1.7 billion, provides commercial computer equipment, including laptops, software, peripherals and operating systems. Vendors advertise the available products over the Internet on their respective home pages.

Similarly, NASA in 1996 awarded the four-year, $1.8 billion Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement II contract to several vendors to provide the agency with servers, network and storage devices, software, maintenance, integration and installation.

This competition from the procurement organizations of these and other agencies has spurred GSA to streamline and improve its own procurement services, Young said.

"GSA has been riding the coattails" of changes in other agencies, he said.

Government agencies can go to the GSA Web site to buy from GTSI, which is the largest reseller of computer products and services to the federal government. But GTSI also operates its own Web site that agencies can use to buy its products.

Although Young contends that GTSI is not a competitor of GSA, he said the Web experience with GSA is not as good as that offered by GTSI. GSA's information is not as up to date as GTSI's, but the agency handles products from thousands of vendors, so it's not GSA's fault, he said.

Competition from other agencies has prompted GSA to improve its procurement practices, Young said.

"GSA has benefited by becoming more responsive to their customers, but we would like to see the competition with GSA continue," he said.By Jennifer Freer, Staff Writer

Eighty federal agencies have moved their telecommunications services to the General Services Administration's FTS2001 contract from FTS2000, the GSA reported.

FTS2001 is GSA's $5 billion long-distance telecommunications contract providing government agencies with long-distance, data and video services. Awarded to WorldCom Inc. in early 1999 and Sprint Corp. in late 1998, the contract spans eight years. AT&T Corp. and Sprint shared the FTS2000 contract.

The Federal Reserve Board, U.S. Supreme Court, Export-Import Bank and the Executive Office of the President are among those that have successfully transitioned to the new contract.

Although there were "unique requirements, technical sophistication and diverse locations" that complicated the move from FTS2000 to FTS2001, these agencies are already reaping the benefits of the new contract with more services available and significant cost savings, according to the GSA.

"At our Network Services Conference last April, I challenged them to transition before Sept. 30," said Sandra Bates, GSA's Federal Technology Service commissioner. "They met that goal."

To date, the U.S. Courts, the administrative offices of all federal courts, is the largest agency to complete transition, well ahead of the Dec. 6 expiration of the old FTS2000 contract. Large government agencies are not completely finished with the transition to FTS2001, but most are near completion.

The Social Security Administration transitioned its toll-free telephone networks, the most complex, switched 800-service network of its type, in just six weeks. The departments of Agriculture, Defense and Justice have each moved asynchronous transfer mode and frame relay networks that reach 500 or more locations.

In total, voice and data services at more than 29,000 locations nationwide have been moved to the new contract.

Frank Lalley, assistant commissioner of FTS Office of Service Delivery, said that certain services at some agencies may not complete the transition before the Dec. 6 deadline. GSA is working with AT&T Corp., Basking Ridge, N.J., Sprint Corp., Westwood, Kan., and WorldCom Inc., Clinton, Miss., to ensure that existing FTS2000 services will continue without interruption until the transition is complete.

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