Study suggests GSA combine functions
Accenture report is only a 'first step,' some say
- By Patience Wait
- May 16, 2002
Former FTS commissioner Dennis Fischer said he was pleased the study recognized there are distinct differences between the two services.
Rep. Tom Davis is chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on technology and procurement policy. His subcommittee has held several hearings to examine GSA operations.
The General Services Administration has been advised in a new study to streamline some operations run separately within the Federal Supply Service and Federal Technology Service. However, questions remain whether making the changes will happen, or if the study missed an opportunity to recommend more fundamental restructuring.
The study was conducted by Accenture Ltd., Hamilton, Bermuda, at the request of GSA Administrator Stephen Perry, and released April 30. It found significant overlap between FSS and FTS operations in research, marketing, sales and delivery functions.
The two organizations are responsible for procuring information technology and telecommunications products and services for federal agencies. The study recommended that common areas of responsibility be combined into single functions to serve both services.
Donna Bennett, FSS commissioner, said the next step is assembling in-house implementation teams to look at the benefits, costs and feasibility of implementing the recommendations. The changes would affect between 100 and 200 employees in the two services, she said.
While Bennett said GSA has not yet decided which of the changes to execute, frequent GSA critic Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., will be asking the General Accounting Office to monitor the agency's implementation of the recommendations, said David Marin, Davis' spokesman.
"As we have demonstrated with our telecom work, we are very interested in internal organization [at GSA]," he said, "and the Accenture study does lay the groundwork for both services to undergo internal overhauls."
Davis is chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on technology and procurement policy. His subcommittee has held several hearings to examine GSA operations, in particular questioning FTS on its handling of significant telecommunications contracts, such as FTS2001, the service's long distance contract, and the Metropolitan Area Acquisition program, a collection of about two dozen local telecommunications services contracts.
Others question whether the study, which took three months to complete at a cost of $276,000, even asked the right questions.
"To some degree, I think they missed the boat. The federal government needs help to get the most out of technology," said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting, a research and consulting firm based in Jenkintown, Pa. "Are they living up to their potential, and can they do a better job of living up to their potential?"
GSA didn't frame the question to Accenture that way, he said. "They took much more of an organizational approach rather than a strategic approach, though they touched on some of these themes, such as serving the customers better," he said.
One industry executive, who knows GSA well but would only speak on background, said the study didn't address the issue of organizational stovepipes within the two services.
"The administrator didn't ask them to do that. I think he kind of latched onto the issues being raised by the press [and] Davis," the executive said.
Dennis Fischer, who served as FTS commissioner from October 1997 to April 2000, said he was pleased the study recognized there are distinct differences between the two services, with FSS more of a "self-service" operation and FTS providing "assisted service" to its customers.
But if GSA is hoping for overhead savings, those savings will be difficult to realize, Fischer said.
"I think the two organizations are relatively lean in terms of their overhead," he said.
The GSA services are "victims of their own success," Suss said. "They've done such a great job of driving down prices, they have a hard time sustaining their operations on low overheads."
Another industry executive said Accenture dodged the question of whether maintaining two separate services is reasonable. The consulting company "was very careful in how they tried to structure this. ... Instead of saying 'combine FSS and FTS,' [the report] said 'you need to make these functions more efficient,' " the executive said.
GSA's big challenge, Suss said, is how to develop the in-house expertise and credibility to help federal agencies plan, acquire and execute major technology projects.
The Navy-Marine Corps Intranet, the $6.9 billion project to overhaul the two services' use of information technology and communications services, is an example of GSA's challenge, Suss said. The Navy did not use GSA to pull the program together, but held its own competition to select Electronic Data Systems Corp. of Plano, Texas, as its overall prime contractor and solution designer.
GSA is trapped within its legacy as a procurement organization, Suss said. It has not yet succeeded in being viewed as a trusted partner in identifying and providing solutions for government agencies struggling to remake their operations.
And the agency faces competition from other federal organizations that can issue governmentwide contracts, such as the Department of Transportation, the Interior Department's Minerals Material Service and the National Institutes of Health.
"The problem with serving as a pure procurement organization is that others are able to do the same. It's an important function, and they've gotten good deals, but it's not unique," Suss said. "There are agencies that want to do their own thing, like the Navy."
Davis has other changes in mind besides combining some FTS and FSS operations.
A May 4 GAO report criticized FTS' implementation of the MAA program. "We intend to use that report with FTS to discuss how they should re-examine their own internal management structure," Marin said.Staff Writer Patience Wait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.