Does GSA need a makeover?

With Martha Johnson waiting in the wings to become the next GSA administrator, we asked our experts to offer her and the agency some advice

Our experts: Neal Fox, former assistant commissioner for acquisition at the General Services Administration and founder of Neal Fox Consulting, and Harold Gracey, former chief information officer at the Veterans Affairs Department and now a consultant at Topside Consulting Group, Courtney Fairchild, president of Global Services, and Greg Mundell, vice president, Pragmatics Inc.

Gracey: A high point during my career at the Veterans Affairs [Department] came in the mid-’90s when I was the department’s chief of staff at a time when the secretary had summed up the department’s goal as “putting veterans first.” It was a clear and unequivocal statement against which every employee could weigh his or her actions and performance every day.

In that era, GSA had a very similar focus on putting its customers first. I knew I could go to my colleagues at GSA, ask for their help in solving my problems and get that help.

The new GSA administrator’s priorities ought to be targeted at returning GSA to a clear leadership role in making life easier and better for the departments and agencies that are its customers.

To do that, GSA needs to:

  • Establish close, ongoing relationships with its government customer organizations’ leaders and their staffs.
  • Ask their government customers what they need.
  • Empower GSA employees to deliver for those customers in creative, timely and cost-effective ways.
  • Offer high-quality support and services for customer agencies in areas requiring special expertise, such as large-scale contracting and training of acquisition and program management professionals.

Across the government, we’re challenged to deliver higher-quality service to citizens more cost-effectively. GSA’s priorities — and resources — should be focused on putting its customer agencies first to help them meet that challenge.

Fox: A major GSA priority must be to fight the usurpation of power by the inspectors general, Government Accountability Office and other oversight agencies.

These destructive forces are tearing down acquisition reform one brick at a time, including the recent GAO ruling that inappropriately applies the “rule of two” to the schedules program and GSA IG efforts fighting reform of the schedules’ price-reduction clause. [The rule of two is the requirement that if there are two small businesses that are qualified for the work, a contract must go to a small business.]

These may seem like procurement-geek issues, but they are fundamental to GSA’s effectiveness. It will take guts on the part of the new administrator, so we will see what she is made of.

Fairchild: The top priority for her will have to be the distribution, oversight and reporting of the $5.5 billion in stimulus funds received by GSA’s Public Building Service through the recovery act. There is a lot of public interest to make sure the taxpayer's money is spent wisely.

Attention is going to need to be paid and decisions will need to be made regarding the recommendations from the Multiple Award Schedules Advisory Panel. This panel has spent a lot of time and effort to make suggestions on how the MAS program can move forward.

Given the past problems with GSA procurement programs like Alliant and Alliant Small Business, Johnson must ensure that the agency cleans up how these procurements are run from a legal and process perspective. This is also important to the image and vitality of GSA as it needs to be considered the "go-to" procurement force for the rest of the government.

A short term priority will be hiring and training qualified 1102 procurement staff. GSA has been doing more with less for some time and the workload is only increasing. In the long term, like every other agency, it is important to ascertain how to retain this qualified staff. Success depends on the quality of their workforce.


One priority should be maximizing their value to the government and industry information technology community. This includes maintaining an open dialog with the Alliant awardees to ensure successful contract promotion and execution.

For new contracts GSA should look at creating a graduated schedule across small business categories, along the lines of the $23-million level and 500-, 1000-, and 1500-person NAICS codes. y creating a tiered model, GSA would be helping to promote small business growth in America.

GSA should take a leadership role in the provision of enterprise IT on behalf of its agency customers. The vast advantages of cloud computing, web services, and enterprise information management would be facilitated if agencies had an IT Center of Excellence from which to acquire such services. Such a Center could operate in a manner similar to the Public Building Service or the Federal Acquisition Service – a “Federal IT Service” could bring together GSA’s many IT operations in a way that improves outcomes for all agencies.

Lastly, GSA should continue to expand its portfolio of green programs to help agencies set an example for American businesses and specifically GSA should make continual progress as it strives for green building construction and operations.

Have a suggestion for a Survival Guide question? E-mail editor Nick Wakeman at

Reader Comments

Sat, May 9, 2009 Jaime Gracia Washington, DC

I very much agree with Courtney that a tiered structure should be in place for GSA Schedules to ensure successful growth of small businesses. This should be done in conjunction with an overhaul of the small business size standards at SBA which needs long overdue reform. From personal experience, I would also recommend a dedicated training program to improve customer service by ensuring knowledgeable 1102s along product lines. Everyone knows about MOBIS and IT Schedule 70, but poor knowledge exists across other product lines such as AIMS. I asked many GSA reps about their knowledge of AIMS, and almost no one was familiar with their use. I use the AIMS example because of personal experience and being forced to use MOBIS, out of scope because of the lack of requirements knowledge for use of the product lines. Have dedicated people able to provide broad customer service to ensure quality across the GSA spectrum.

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