Signed, sealed ? will it deliver?

Regional issues could challenge GSA's new Federal Acquisition Service

"We have the authority to move forward, and our leaders and phenomenal workforce will execute the game plan," says GSA Administrator Lurita Doan.

Rick Steele

Now that the ribbon has been cut and the doors opened to the General Services Administration's much-anticipated Federal Acquisition Service, there is one big question left: Will it matter?

GSA officials contend that FAS, which combines the Federal Technology and Federal Supply services, and the IT and General Supply funds, will deliver a more coordinated approach to acquisitions.

"FTS and FSS were very different in many respects, and had different ways of running things," said Jim Williams, the Federal Acquisition Service commissioner. "Providing a common set of tools is what FAS is all about."

But it's unclear whether the new organization will be the cure for all that ails GSA. Several observers, while supportive of the Federal Acquisition Service, said that the reorganization will not resolve the regional issues that have been the source of the agency's problems.

'Not fixable'

"It has always been the case that the regions go their own way, and that's where the bulk of the problems are," said Phil Kiviat, partner with consultancy Guerra Kiviat Inc., Potomac, Md. "That is still the big question mark, as far as I'm concerned."

"The regional issue is not fixable," said Neal Fox, former Federal Supply Service assistant commissioner and founder of Neal Fox Consulting, Manassas, Va. "Regional administrators are political, and the FAS commissioner is not. That will never be completely resolved."

After legislation approving the Federal Acquisition Service and creating the Acquisition Services Fund passed Congress and got the president's signature earlier this month, GSA Administrator Lurita Doan signed an order officially establishing it.

"We have the authority to move forward, and our leaders and phenomenal workforce will execute the game plan," Doan said.

But that game plan could be hampered by the same problems that have dogged the agency for years, industry observers said.

FTS has been hemorrhaging money and customers, particularly in its IT Solutions division, observers said. That has forced GSA to offer early retirement and buyouts to employees.

By merging the two services, GSA hopes to stem revenue losses in the FTS division. Because the agency is largely funded by the fees it charges for its services, however, a decrease in business could have a profound impact on the agency as a whole, observers said.

"The cost and fee structure needs to be analyzed, because that's what's killing FAS," Fox said.

A few points of view

The fee structure aside, the regional structure is GSA's biggest challenge, Fox and others said.

Williams dismissed such concerns, however, and said he is confident that all GSA employees will work together, and that the new organization will succeed.
The regional administrators "have been great to deal with; they share the same commitment I do," he said.

Over the coming weeks, GSA officials will consider the detailed structure of how the 11 regions will operate within the Federal Acquisition Service, Williams said.
A longer-term project will determine whether any changes need to be made to the number of regions or zones and the associated fees, he said.

Williams also said that he will consult with Congress as the Federal Acquisition Service continues with its developments.

And at this point, Congress is on board. House Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who wrote the legislation setting the reorganization in motion, said combining the two services and acquisition funds will help streamline not just the agency, but government procurement as well.

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

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