Doan: Leave the contracting to us

New GSA administrator targets proliferation of governmentwide contracts

GSA Administrator Lurita Doan: "Our job is to touch and facilitate everybody else's mission, so that in addition to doing what we do, we have to understand everything that everyone else does."

Rick Steele

It's appropriate that Lurita Doan draws inspiration from the Renaissance ? the new administrator of the General Services Administration is trying to pull the much-maligned agency through a rebirth of its own.

Doan, who has just completed her first 30 days on the job, is not only aiming to reform GSA, but to significantly alter government contracting.

"This is an agency that touches every aspect of government," Doan said. "Almost every other agency has a core mission it is responsible for: The Defense Department does military, NASA does space, the Treasury Department does money ? they've got a mission. GSA, our job is to touch and facilitate everybody else's mission, so that in addition to doing what we do, we have to understand everything that everyone else does."

While such a mission presents a daunting task, it doesn't seem overwhelming for Doan, who can ? and does ? in the same breath quote Shakespeare and talk enterprise architecture.

Start in small biz

Doan came to GSA after studying Renaissance literature in graduate school and later founding New Technology Management Inc., a small IT business in Reston, Va. Her background in the arts provides her with inspiration to believe in herself, she said, while her experience with technology gives her the tools and know-how to talk shop.

"I think it's good for the employees, because I think sometimes for the techie guys and girls, it's hard for them when people's eyes are glazing over when they are trying to explain a very important concept," she said. "The one thing they know is I'm absolutely with them in the trenches, because I love this stuff."

Although she is still getting her feet wet at GSA, Doan is making no secret of her intent to not only improve and restore its mission and morale, but make her agency "the" stop for federal procurement.

In particular, Doan said she wants to end the proliferation of governmentwide acquisition and multiple award contracts (developed by agencies other than her own), such as NASA's Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement and Defense Department acquisitions such as the Navy's Seaport-e and the Army's IT Enterprise Services-2.

Doan said these agencies, and the government overall, would be better served if they let GSA handle the procurement business while they focus on their core missions.

"I'm kind of confused when I see something like NASA's SEWP coming along," she said. "You know, those are the guys in the sky, that's their job. Our job is to put the infrastructure in place that makes that possible, at least the commodity part of it."

Doan's predecessor, Stephen Perry, who resigned in October, also supported the idea of GSA or a few agencies taking over many of the large-scale, commodity procurements for government. He also said that too many agencies are duplicating GSA's efforts.

Cloud is forming

A potential contracting storm is brewing, Doan said, over the 10-year, $1 billion telecommunications-buying vehicle, the Treasury Communications Enterprise contract. Treasury should seriously consider ending that procurement and taking telecom services through GSA's massive Networx vehicle, she said. Networx, a $20 billion telecommunications GWAC, will be awarded in March, she said.

"It is important that we not appear to be aiding and abetting contract proliferation," she said. "It is something I don't believe is in their best interest. I believe Networx is going to be a superior contract with superior rates for telecom, and I think it's important for them."

Moreover, the costs of setting up and maintaining a procurement workforce present a difficult, expensive task, she said. As more agencies move in this direction, it reduces their buying power and could mean the agency is not getting the best deal.

"It's just confusing to me when you see agencies that are doing things that are not within their core competencies," she said. "And you know their costs of performing that work are greater than ours."

Concerns about contract proliferation have reached the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, which late last year established an interagency working group to analyze the issue. Doan said she has met with Office of Management and Budget officials as well as House Government Reform Committee staff to discuss the subject.

Doan has directed her staff to determine just how much it costs an agency to establish a GWAC and compare those costs with coming to GSA.

"I am pretty sure that it will be hard for these other agencies to justify cost savings, charging taxpayer dollars for these particular efforts," she said. "Why would a customer choose to go to another GWAC outside GSA when it is not necessarily in their agency's work area or, costwise, in their best interest?"

The hard part
This is a part of her strategy to win back business, which won't be easy. GSA over the past few years has seen a steady drop in customers and confidence, leading several agencies to go solo for major acquisitions.

One such agency is the Defense Department, which has considered cutting a significant chunk of its business with GSA because of past contracting and accounting irregularities. These concerns have been assuaged, for the most part, by recent GSA inspector general report that said the agency has applied comprehensive internal controls and revamped accounting processes.

The loss of customers has resulted in a revenue downturn at certain GSA divisions, most notably the agency's national IT Services shop, which will see drop to $1.4 billion in 2006 from $1.9 billion last year.

This has caused GSA and its newly formed Federal Acquisition Service, formed from a merger of the Federal Technology and Federal Supply services, to implement a hiring freeze and offer buyouts to nearly 400 employees.

To date, 150 employees have taken the buyouts, a GSA spokesman said, and Doan is leaving the question of whether more buyouts are needed to new FAS Commissioner Jim Williams.
Doan said she's aware of the challenges and is confident that, through consistent and sustained outreach, the agency will win back confidence.

"We care about the customer, but we didn't always do the important thing and tell them we care," she said. "Sometimes, at least in business, you have to let the customer know that you appreciate their business."

Doan is meeting with Defense Department officials and also has crisscrossed the country to meet not only with customers the agency has maintained, but also those it has lost.

These customers and former customers have plenty of reasons for being skeptical of GSA, but Doan is convinced that, in the end, having a central shop for government procurement is smart business.

"When you put the entire weight of the government behind a procurement effort, what you have is a huge buying power," she said. "The economies of scale that you can insist on ? not ask for, but insist on ? from a vendor are so much more powerful."

Rob Thormeyer is a staff writer with Government Computer News. He can be reached at rthormeyer@postnewsweektech.com.

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