GSA reorg gets mixed reviews

The General Services Administration has released its final reorganization plan, which calls for merging GSA's two acquisition services into one, creating six "zones" around the nation to supplant the services' 11 regions and reshaping chains of command to increase oversight without losing flexibility.

GSA has already taken some steps toward implementing the plan, including dissolving the commissioner positions for the Federal Supply and Federal Technology services, and appointing Barbara Shelton as acting commissioner of the new Federal Acquisition Service. But officials declined to commit to a time frame for completing the changes.

Meanwhile, observers offered mixed reviews of the plan. One important element is creating six zones that include multiple regions. GSA Administrator Stephen Perry said that employees in zone offices working on national programs will report to GSA headquarters, while those working on customer service within their zones will report to regional administrators.

However, some observers are concerned that regional employees will still have too little supervision. In the past, GSA discovered several cases in which employees in regional offices violated procurement rules, which was one factor leading to the current reorganization.

The new plan might bring its own problems, said Phil Kiviat, a consultant with Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik and Associates.

"Overall, my impression of it is good," he said. "But I have reservations about things here and there, which may be justified and may not be, because I'm not sure how it's going to work in practice. As they say, the devil is in the details, and there's a lot there that's not said, so we'll have to wait and see."

Bob Woods, former FTS commissioner and now president of Topside Consulting Group, praised the merging of FSS and FTS, but said the industry must come to grips with the impact the changes will have on companies.

"We've got some real concern that industry does not realize that this could have big impacts on them, maybe even devastating impacts," he said. "This changes the way they market. It changes business relationships. It is not a slight ripple."

Not all observers agree that merging the services is a good idea.

"By merging the two sides of the house, I think they're treating acquisition as a one-size-fits-all model," said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting. "That means that the lawyer and procurement types have won, but the real need was to build the confidence and trust of the agencies by building the technical expertise of FTS."

Suss said the reorganization is a reactive response to the problems of recent years rather than a progressive vision for the future.

"They're focused so much on their concerns about fixing the scandals and saving money by avoiding duplication that I think they've missed a great opportunity to address the question of how GSA can expand to cover more of the real demanding, complex requirements that agencies have," he said. "I just don't think this is going to get them where they need to go."

Jim Kane, president and chief executive officer of the Systems and Software Consortium, said he is not sure that GSA leaders appreciate "the more than subtle distinction between policy and process."

He said GSA's plan discusses the importance of consistent, efficient and effective processes on one page, and then "the words about their processes never appear again."

Instead, the rest of the plan emphasizes policies, regulations, standards, management and oversight, he said, which he described as "the classic internal mind-set of a bureaucracy."

In presenting the plan Aug. 4, Perry said GSA held discussions with various constituents throughout the design process.

"We wanted to make sure we have an organization that will enable us to be consistent, compliant and accountable," he said. "We want to move more and more toward being a strategic partner to our customer agencies so that we can work with them more actively."

Recently, the Senate passed an amendment to the Treasury and Transportation appropriations bill that forbids GSA to spend money on reorganization activities without approval from Senate appropriators. Although Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, had pressed GSA to strengthen its centralized management, a report accompanying the Senate bill expresses the opposite worry, that the planned reorganization could result in too much centralization.

Perry said he does not see the Senate measure, if it survives the legislative process, as a setback.

"They believe, and we don't disagree, that [when] GSA and others involved in the federal acquisition process ... make changes, we [should] make changes that are going to improve the process," he said. "I don't think it's a problem at all."

Slicing the pie

The General Services Administration's reorganization includes the creation of five units under the new Federal Acquisition Service. They are:

Customer Accounts and Research — Will collect and analyze information on customers' needs and buying habits.

Acquisition Management — Will oversee the consistent application of acquisition policy across the new Federal Acquisition Service.

General Supplies and Services — Will provide general products and services for agencies.

Integrated Technology Services — Will provide products and services for information technology and telecommunications, and offer professional services.

Travel, Motor Vehicles and Card Services — Will offer travel, relocation, freight management and purchase card services.

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