Kelman: The "You're fired" approach

The easy days for GWACs and GSA schedule contracts are over

Recently, I sat at a dinner table with John Johnson, leader of the upcoming Alliant contract, the General Services Administration’s information technology governmentwide acquisition contract. We talked about how Alliant could increase the value it offers federal customers — and hence its attractiveness — during a time when GWACs are facing increased scrutiny and competition from other vehicles.

I don’t exactly remember how the idea first came up — it doesn’t really matter — but we talked about a thought Johnson soon dubbed the “You’re fired!” strategy, based on Donald Trump’s TV show, “The Apprentice.”

According to the idea, GSA would choose Alliant winners. After awarding the contracts, GSA would collect past-performance report card ratings on each task order in the contract. Following a period of time, it would terminate vendors with the poorest past-performance ratings and open the competition again to replace the departing vendors with new ones. After the first cycle, the agency would repeat the process for each year of the contract. Thus, the remaining companies on the contract would be the best of the best. And the desire to stay on contract would improve the performance levels of all the GWAC holders.

Johnson hasn’t decided yet whether GSA will use this approach for Alliant. I hope it does. If GSA or any other agency does this, they would obviously need to announce their intention in the initial request for proposals for the contract.

The conversation with Johnson revealed two interesting points about our procurement system right now. The first is that the easy days for GWACs and the GSA schedule contracts are over, and managers of those vehicles need to explore ways to make them more valuable to agency customers.

GWACs and schedule contracts are extremely valuable parts of the procurement system. Because they have streamlined ordering procedures, they make it easier to quickly access vendors to fulfill agency missions. Beyond that, because companies can easily get on a contract, agencies can also easily change vendors that don’t perform well, and they can also do modular contracting, both of which are good for the government.

Furthermore, GWACs and schedule contracts encourage competition and could add contracting employees to an undermanned system.

But GWACs and the schedule contracts got themselves — and the government — into trouble by tolerating too many de facto sole-source awards for too long, among other problems.

Now those vehicles need to think creatively about new ways to generate value. This may involve offering more contract management services. It may involve more help crafting performance-based, share-in-savings or other complex contracts. It may also involve approaches such as the one Johnson is considering for Alliant.

The second message from my dinner conversation was that, despite the vicious pressures beating on government employees to retreat into their shells and stop thinking, we are still blessed with many innovative thinkers like Johnson. They refuse to hand in their brains. They refuse to hand in their hearts. They continue to try to find ways to get the best value for agencies through contracting. They deserve our gratitude and support.

Kelman is a professor of public management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. He can be reached at : steve_kelman@harvard.edu.

The 2014 Federal 100

Get to know the 100 women and men honored this year for going above and beyond in federal IT.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above