'Engage Industry'

Contractors want voice in GSA restructuring<@VM>GSA to track subcontracts

The General Services Administration's plan to reorganize the Federal Technology and Federal Supply services must go beyond the superficial merging of two organizations and improve the organization's overall value to agencies and industry, federal and private sector officials said.

Although details of the reorganization still are thin, officials said certain issues must be addressed. Among the desired changes, agency and industry officials want better trained procurement officers, fees that are in line with other governmentwide contracts, and streamlined offerings.

Industry, in particular, is eager to have a voice in how GSA restructures.

"It is necessary to both engage industry fully in the discussions and, even more importantly, to take a holistic view of GSA, its customers and the panoply of interconnected issues and challenges they face," said Elaine Dauphin, a vice president Computer Sciences Corp. She oversees CSC's GSA and government-wide contracts and spoke on behalf of the Professional Services Council at a March 16 hearing on the issue before the House Government Reform Committee.

Representatives from the Contract Services Association of America, Coalition for Government Procurement and the Information Technology Association of America also called on GSA to involve its customers and private industry as active participants in its reorganization discussions.

The planned reorganization, which would combine FTS and FSS into a single organization, is getting a strong push from the Office of Management and Budget and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). President Bush's proposed fiscal 2006 budget calls for merging the general supply and IT funds, while Davis is planning legislation to that effect as well.

"While the bifurcated system may have made sense two decades ago when IT investments were a relatively new phenomenon, technologies such as laptop computers, cell phones and e-mail are now as ubiquitous with office supplies as are desks and phones," said Davis, chairman of the Government Reform Committee and a frequent critic of GSA.

Drew Crockett, the committee chairman's deputy communications director, said reorganizing GSA's operations will likely make it easier for vendors to do business with the government.

"We believe that a unified management will lead to greater efficiencies by ending the artificial barrier between IT and other goods and services, allowing the seamless acquisition of solutions containing both IT and non-IT elements," he said.

FTS and FSS handle more than $34 billion in products and services that agencies buy. FSS operates GSA's schedules, which offer a broad range of products and services.

FTS acts as an advisor to agencies looking for more specialized procurements and manages GSA's large GWAC contracts. Fees collected from government agencies provide the main source of funding for the programs. The Defense Department is GSA's largest agency client.

In addition to merging FTS and FSS, GSA also is looking to revamp its administrative functions in its Chief Information Officer and Chief Financial Officer divisions.

Many contractors declined to speculate on how GSA's restructuring would affect them, saying that it was too early to tell because the draft restructuring plan is in the early stages.

"It remains to be seen" how GSA's reorganization will affect contractors because the agency must grapple with some cultural and business differences in the way FSS and FTS operate in putting together a new organization, said John Marshall, vice president of the federal sector at CGI-AMS, of Fairfax, Va.

Simply merging FSS and FTS operations will not be enough, said an agency procurement executive who requested anonymity.

"I don't think it will make much difference if the GSA doesn't change its culture and focus on quality contracting, streamline the offerings, and get their service fees in line with some other governmentwide acquisition contracts and multiple award contracts," the government official said.

Mike Davison, director and general manager of Canon U.S.A. Inc.'s government marketing division, offered several recommendations to the committee as the representative of the Coalition for Government Procurement, an industry trade association.

GSA should adopt a consistent and customer-oriented business model that includes establishing clear expectations on what the reorganization will achieve, he said.

"Having some end goal to aim for ensures that any reorganization, inside or outside of government, has a benchmark against which it can determine success," he said.

The coalition also wants GSA to centralize authority for managing acquisition and to use part of the industry funding fee to hire and train contracting officers.

Davison also suggested that GSA set up a customer and industry advisory group if the agency is unable or unwilling to expand its steering committee.

"One of the things we are working on is making sure the GWACs and schedules are structured in such a way that the agencies can buy total solutions off of them and not have to go to multiple contracts for different services," Larry Allen, executive director of the coalition, said in an interview. "If an agency needs a service that includes hardware and software, industry should be able to give its best response based on labor categories, no matter what contract or schedule they hold."

A critical question for many vendors is whether the restructuring plan will impact upcoming multibillion-dollar GSA contracts, such as the FTS Networx telecommunications and data services contract and the Alliant IT solutions contract, both to be awarded in 2006.

But GSA Administrator Stephen Perry told the committee that the reorganization would not slow down the agency's major procurement projects, including Networx. GSA expects to issue the draft restructuring plan in May and start implementing changes by July.

The reorganization will result in one accounting stream and one fund, said Barbara Shelton, acting commissioner of FTS, who testified at the hearing.

GSA already has set up a steering committee composed of 10 agency executives to oversee the merger of FSS and FTS. Three task forces with senior GSA managers and subject matter experts will set the scope of the agency's reorganization.

The three task forces, each with 12 or more subject matter experts, focus on acquisition services, financial management and IT management.

The acquisition services task force is co-chaired by Shelton and Donna Bennett, FSS commissioner; the financial management team is chaired by Kathleen Turco, GSA's chief financial officer; and the IT management group is chaired by Michael Carleton, GSA's chief information officer. The agency also is planning an industry day to gather input from outside the agency.

The push for the reorganization has been fueled in part by procedural missteps at GSA's regional offices.

GSA's inspector general issued a report in 2003 about the mismanagement of several FTS contracts in the agency's Bremerton, Wash., office in GSA's Northwest Region. Another IG report in late 2004 found similar problems in GSA's other 10 regions.

In response, GSA launched its "Get It Right" program to assure that procurements were in line with agency and government buying rulings. The agency also began other efforts, such as expanding employee training and launching a legal review of the regional offices' procurement practices.

The reorganization will not slow down this program, Perry said.

Washington Technology Staff Writer Roseanne Gerin can be reached at rgerin@postnewsweektech.com. Jason Miller is a senior writer at Government Computer News. He can be reached at jmiller@postnewsweektech.com.

"We will get information that we've never had visibility into before and that will help us see additional opportunities." ?  Earl Warrington, IAE

Henrik G. de Gyor

The General Services Administration this summer will begin using a new data collection tool that could resolve one of government's thorniest problems: How much subcontracting work goes to small and disadvantaged businesses?

Symplicity Corp. of Arlington, Va., was hired in March under a $1.2 million contract to build an electronic subcontracting reporting system.

The contract is part of the GSA's Integrated Acquisition Environment, one of the 25 Quicksilver e-government projects.

"We will get information that we've never had visibility into before and that will help us see additional opportunities," said Earl Warrington, IAE's deputy program manager. "In many respects, the more granular the information the more difficult it has been to collect."

The system will use Symplicity's forms software and management information system on the front end and connect to agency and vendor systems through Web services. Vendors will use Extensible Markup Language forms to submit information that will be stored on a MySQL database. The application resides on a Linux server running Apache. ESRS will integrate with numerous systems, including the Central Contractor Registration and the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation, the Symplicity spokes-man said.

"This will provide the federal government with much needed and accurate information about subcontracting," he said.

GSA will test the system this summer with as many as 12 vendors and agencies, Warrington said. GSA, however, had not decided which vendors or agencies will participate in the pilot or when it will start.

Symplicity must finish the initial operating capability by late June, which includes integrating with the FPDS-NG so contracts that require subcontracting plans would automatically be entered into ESRS. This would make retrieving agencywide summary subcontracting information across the different socioeconomic areas from vendors and agencies much easier.

An ESRS working group led by the Small Business Administration tweaked the standard forms by updating the data request and asking for additional information. The working group also will offer training to agency and vendor procurement workers, said Frank Lalumiere, deputy associate administrator for SBA's Government Contracting and Business Development Office.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy asked agency chief acquisition officers to designate at least one ESRS agency coordinator. The coordinator then will identify others who need training and SBA will conduct sessions over the next three months.

The working group also will launch an ESRS Web site with frequently asked questions and other information as the system grows, said Art Collins, program manager for SBA's Subcontracting Assistance Program.

"For contractors that submit subcontracting reports for individual contracts, the system will give us the ability to look at the data in two different ways, giving agencies a more complete picture of what is going on," said Bob Taylor, SBA's ESRS project manager. "We will be able to see the tier one subcontracting as well as how much subcontracting the project is generating for all small businesses if you roll up all the tiers."

Currently, subcontracting information is collected on paper, Warrington said. "The agency small business directors collected this information and entered into modules in the old FPDS. In the future, contractors will create the data once and enter it into the ESRS," he said.

Warrington said the systems' full capability should be in place by the end of the September.

The full capability includes collecting subcontracting data from specific contracts and the preceding subcontracting levels.

Warrington said other subcontracting reporting systems will be shut down as ESRS is implemented by agencies.

The summary data will be available to the public initially, but GSA has not determined whether the more specific contract-by-contract data will be available to the general public, Warrington said.

"The information will be more accurate and timely," he said. "We are going to the source for the information instead of it being passed through to someone else to enter it. The system also checks the validation of the math or that the vendor entered information into the right part of the form."

Jason Miller is a senior writer at Government Computer News. He can be reached at jmiller@postnewsweektech.com

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