GSA may reinvent itself
Officials to develop proposals for restructuring the agency
Under intense scrutiny from the federal procurement community, General Services Administration officials have formed an internal steering committee to consider reorganizing the agency.
Many procurement observers say the move is a prudent step, but they would like industry officials also to have a role in reshaping the agency that oversees much of the federal government's buying activities.
GSA Administrator Stephen Perry said the committee of GSA officials will hold meetings, appoint task forces to examine particular aspects of the agency and submit a report by July. The group is made up of officials from GSA headquarters and field offices. It includes no industry officials, which some procurement advisers have criticized.
"I would bring in some industry people and say, 'If this was yours and you were running it, how would you do it?' " said Bob Guerra of Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik and Associates, which advises other companies on how to do business with the government.
Perry, who held executive positions in industry before joining the government, will probably seek ideas from industry, Guerra said. But industry officials must put aside their desire to sell products and services so that they can offer objective advice, he said.
The information technology industry is a pretty collegial group, Guerra said, adding that "they can put their parochial interests aside when they're told to."
GSA has been under a harsh spotlight in recent months after a series of probes by its inspector general into the agency's client support centers. GSA's Federal Technology Service operates client support centers in each of GSA's 11 regions. The IG found that employees in many of those offices have been violating various federal contracting rules for the past several years.
John Ortego, president of Ortego and Associates, a business consulting company, said the violations were mostly the result of shortcuts that FTS employees took to satisfy customers' needs quickly and were not for personal gain. He doubts whether reorganizing the agency will adequately address the cause of the violations.
The government needs to buy goods and services in a timely manner, Ortego said. "Many people in GSA [who were] trying to respond to those needs pushed the rules pretty hard, and the IG picked that up."
Restructuring is also risky, said Kathy Conrad, a vice president at Jefferson Consulting Group, a federal marketing and management company. Conrad said she doesn't want to see the pendulum swing from flexibility and customer focus back to an audit mentality. "It's a genuine concern, but it's one that GSA and others are acutely aware of and are working to avoid," she said.
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, has vowed to reorganize GSA this year. He said FTS and the Federal Supply Service are more often competing than cooperating to serve government customers.
Guerra said he thinks a reorganization study could result in a merger of FTS and FSS. "From a business standpoint, it seems analogous to merging EDS and GTSI," he said. "Were the two to merge, a great deal of duplication at the midrange of the two could be cut out."
Guerra said GSA could be restructured along those lines. A single team could be responsible for contract management and negotiation rather than having those responsibilities handled on two sides of the agency, he said.
The IT Association of America is not taking a position on specific GSA reform proposals, said Olga Grkavac, an executive vice president of ITAA. However, members of the technology trade group share Guerra's concern about industry participation, she said.
Agency officials should at least inform industry leaders of possible changes, Grkavac said.
"What we're asking is that, as they develop their proposals, there may be ways to consult with industry," she said. "They're going to be consulting with Congress, and obviously [the Office of Management and Budget] has a role. We're their customers, too."