Suss: Building a better GSA

More controls and greater efficiency won’t get the agency where it needs to go

It appears that control and efficiency are the major objectives of those who want to merge the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Service and Federal Technology Service. By unifying and centralizing the organization, GSA would exercise greater control over procurement operations and thereby minimize opportunities for future scandals. And by merging similar FTS and FSS operations in areas such as procurement and finance, GSA could become more efficient.

But better control and greater efficiency won't get GSA where it needs to go. The proposed FTS/FSS merger is a deal with high risks, and it's not just the future of GSA that's on the line. Government agencies are facing the worst budget crunch in recent history.

If agencies can reduce their internal procurement and technical support shops and rely more on GSA and its industry partners for the planning, acquisition and implementation of their broadly defined network requirements, they should be able to do more with less.

This will happen only if GSA wins agencies' trust and delivers results that are better than what they can achieve on their own.

GSA has an opportunity to expand its role as an internal government consultant to chief information officers and program managers. Industry cannot duplicate this trusted internal adviser role.

GSA can expand its value to agencies and achieve its objective of serving as the premier channel for delivering a broadly defined set of networking and information technology products and services to the federal community by adopting a more effective consultative sales model.

It needs to tell agencies what works and what does not and which vendors do a good job and which ones don't. GSA officials also can help put agency buyers in touch with other agencies' experts who have been successful in addressing similar challenges.

GSA is the only organization in the government without an oversight role that can help agencies look across thousands of network-related projects in various stages of implementation and operation to figure out what works, what is a good deal and what is a waste of money. Then GSA officials can help agencies navigate the risks on the road to successful acquisition, implementation and operation.

This is the great potential value in GSA's role as a high-end, value-added reseller. Today, FSS schedule contracts account for $4 of every $5 flowing through GSA. The challenge is to build up GSA's ability to advise the government on the larger, more complex deals FTS currently handles. These are the deals where agencies need the most help because they involve the greatest technical, schedule and cost risks.

Unless the reorganization helps GSA step up to this very challenging role of trusted internal government adviser, its agency customers will not let it take on more of their most critical deals, no matter how fast and cost-effective GSA gets. Even if Congress clamps down on non-GSA indefinite- delivery, indefinite-quantity vehicles, agencies will still have the option of doing procurement on their own. GSA needs to be cheap, fast, smart and trusted to achieve its full potential.

Suss is president of Suss Consulting, headquartered in Jenkintown, Pa.

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