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Mark Day: How agencies boost savings

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Agencies have been living under flat and even decreasing budgets for several years. Accordingly, the Obama administration has been pressuring agencies to find savings in overall contract spending and specifically in contracts for professional and technical services and program management support. Congress, which has not passed a budget since fiscal 2010, recently resorted to a continuing resolution to keep the government operating for the first half of fiscal 2013. And sequestration is set to take a $1.2 trillion chunk from government spending over the next decade.

In times like these, officials need to find innovative ways to survive, which has boosted the role the General Services Administration’s Office of Strategic Solutions can play in tackling those contracting challenges.

“There are moments in every community’s life where you have some fundamental choices to make, and those fundamental choices will drive you to either much greater success or frankly not help your success at all,” said Mark Day, director of the Office of Strategic Programs at the General Services Administration.

Day left his position as chief technology officer at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to come to GSA a year ago. He is responsible for setting the policy tone at GSA and, by extension, the other agencies that buy through GSA, said Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners.

Day’s “role has done nothing but go up” in importance, Allen said.

Allen and others are confident that Day is up to the challenge. For starters, he has worked in both the government and the private sector, and he has experience in both the CTO and CIO communities, which means he knows his way around policy and technology. In the private sector, he worked on intellectual property issues and developed a career path for IT professionals who serve the government. He also teaches IT and systems management at George Mason University.

“Taking all that together, I think I have a pretty good idea of what our customers face day in and day out,” Day said.

Allen agreed, saying Day has walked the walk. “He can navigate the waters he needs to sail in easily with his background,” Allen said. “On a personal level, Mark is an affable guy and easy to work with. He is smart, but not in an off-putting way.”

And he can provide leadership for government agencies as they look for ways to save money and become more efficient.

“Agencies increasingly need to have both speed and cost savings,” Day said.

Fortunately, he added, agencies are willing to change, which happens when they no longer have the budget to keep doing things the old way or when an experience in their personal lives opens their eyes to technology-related innovations and opportunities.

Both factors are now in play, Day said, and have pushed the Office of Strategic Programs to study cloud computing and advance governmentwide acquisition contracts.
Being strategic about savings

I think I have a pretty good idea of what our customers face day in and day out.

Through GWACs, agencies can get lower prices by pooling their purchases for a wide array of products and services, including systems design, software engineering and information assurance. In fiscal 2012, agencies obligated nearly $2.8 billion through GSA’s five GWACs — up from $2.3 billion in fiscal 2011, according to GSA’s figures.

The GWACs align with the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative. In fiscal 2011, FSSI managed $339 million through several governmentwide initiatives and reported $60 million in savings. That same year, Department of Homeland Security officials reported savings of $324 million from strategic sourcing efforts at DHS agencies.

Although FSSI officials recently told the Government Accountability Office that they still struggle to get agencies to commit to using the money-saving FSSI contracts, officials are increasingly warming to the idea. Day said FSSI is setting a new direction for how the government capitalizes on its buying power. So far, 18 agencies are participating with FSSI, and four of them have signed on as core members.

The shift to strategic sourcing is “not without a few bumps,” Day said, “but it is, in fact, driving these new ideas that are going to give us the ability to do a much better job.”

In general, GWACs are easy to use, and they free agency contracting offices to spend more time on mission-critical purchases. Agencies can also avoid the cost of hosting their own contracts for common products, which adds to their efficiency.

“That is, in fact, what we’re seeing everyday: People are working together more and more,” Day said.

Tapping industry’s cloud expertise

As officials seek to speed internal operations, they also want to get the latest technology at their fingertips fast. Day’s office is hunting for ways to incorporate new cloud services and technologies into contracts agencies can access. And they are getting lots of input from the community.

GSA released a request for information in July seeking insight into alternative models and solutions for cloud contracts and processes, including the emerging concept of cloud brokers, entities that would manage the use, performance and delivery of cloud services. Brokers would also negotiate the relationship between cloud providers and cloud consumers.

GSA’s industry day event on the topic was standing room only as more than 100 people attended. At press time, GSA officials had received 1,600 pages of comments and had to push back the deadline several weeks as responses continued to flood in.

“We have not yet made the decision that cloud brokerage is the right idea,” Day said at a cloud computing conference in October. But the approach “does look like a viable candidate.”

It is an important topic, said Mike Hettinger, vice president of the Public Sector Innovation Group at the Software and Information Industry Association. Government officials must figure determine the parameters of a cloud brokerage — what it entails and what services a broker should provide to meet specified demands.

The massive response to GSA’s RFI is helping to clarify a blurry field. “It’s not like hiring an insurance broker,” Hettinger said. “It’s a little more complex than that.”

Day said industry offers many models for brokerages, and officials need to decide whether it’s best for the government to be the broker or hand off the job to an outside entity. By giving the duty to someone else, agencies might lose control of some aspects and could open the door for conflicts of interest. However, a broker might be able to work faster than the government can.

“There are a lot of complex questions here,” Day said. “The ultimate is to learn what will, in fact, drive savings and mission productivity.”

Day has his eye on the bigger picture. “If we can speed up the ease of adoption of cloud, then that moves the savings along that much quicker and helps our community be that much more successful,” he said.

Leading by listening

Responsibility for all those efforts does not fall to Day alone. In fact, there is some overlap on the organizational chart. For example, David McClure has a role to play in contracting as associate administrator of GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, as does Mary Davie, acting commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service and assistant commissioner for Integrated Technology Services, which hosts the largest IT contract — Schedule 70.

“What I hear from people is, who’s in charge?” Allen said.

But Allen and Hettinger both praised Day’s office for tapping industry for insight into cloud computing in general and brokerages in particular. And although he is certainly pushing for change, Day said he is putting at least as much emphasis on listening.

“I think the bottom line is this: GSA has really taken a focus on cost savings and mission performance for our customers,” he said. “My office in particular is very eager to sit down with virtually anybody — from our customers or our industry partners — and really have a conversation about how do we try some new things.”

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