GSA adds schedules oversight office

The General Services Administration has created a new office to coordinate the operations of its $36 billion Multiple Award Schedules program.

Responsibility for the MAS program, once concentrated in the Federal Supply Service, has been spread across three different offices since GSA established the Federal Acquisition Service in 2006. The Veterans Affairs Department also handles certain contracts related to medical supplies.

Those offices will continue to manage their shares of the 17,000 schedule contracts. But the new MAS Program Office will ensure that they are following consistent policies and procedures, according to GSA.

“Whenever you divide something up, you need to maintain some consistency because otherwise [the various offices] might go off in different directions,” said Robin Bourne, director of the new Multiple Award Schedule Program Office, which GSA announced Oct. 1.

As regulations allow, contracting officers have discretion to determine a fair price for the government, and, being spread across FAS and VA, officials want to have a group of contracting officers who are coordinating their work to a consistent standard, Bourne said.

“We just want to provide them with the tools to utilize the discretion they have,” he said. “Hopefully when we provide guidance it’s available to all of them, they will all use discretion prudently and their decisions will be reasonable based on the same guidance.”

The new office is a part of FAS’ Acquisition Management Office, which reviews FAS-wide issues and programs, according to the FAS order laying out the organizational changes. Former GSA Administrator Lurita Doan signed the order Oct. 12, 2006.

According to the charter that formed the new MAS office, the Acquisition Management Office will head the new office to strategically align the MAS program overall.

The office will increase stakeholder satisfaction with the MAS program, according to the charter, which Jim Williams, then FAS commissioner and now acting GSA administrator, signed in July.

But Neal Fox, former assistant commissioner for acquisition at GSA who was in charge of the program until 2005, said GSA must put the schedules contracts under one program office to avoid any discord. The new office is merely a third party to the organization, Fox said, and doesn’t really provide the coordination needed. The existing FAS offices will essentially ignore the new office’s announcements, he said.

“They broke it in the first place, and now they’re putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” said Fox, now president of Neal Fox Consulting. The split creates problems for GSA’s work with its customers, who don’t want to deal with separate offices to buy what they need.

“Good luck trying to tell the other guys what to do,” he said.

However, Tricia Pierson, deputy commissioner of the Acquisition Management Office, said they’ve talked about the benefits of the new office with the various officials who support it. GSA officials will meet in November to begin building stronger relationships through a governance council, Bourne said.

John Okay, former deputy commissioner of GSA’s Federal Technology Service, said the schedules contracts work when they’re grouped in similar bunches. Schedule 70’s information technology contracts works well in the same office as other IT contract vehicles, such as governmentwide acquisition contracts.

“It makes sense to have contracts that deal with IT and telecommunications managed by people who know something about that technology and the customers who buy those products and services,” said Okay, now partner at Topside Consulting.

The office will help drive new ways of doing business, but major initiatives still would require approval from the FAS Management Council and other boards, according to the office’s charter.

With the schedules contract sales increasing to $36 billion in fiscal 2007, from $35.2 billion in fiscal 2006, and various offices handling the contracts, the new office has a tough job ahead.

“It will be a challenge, but I also think it will be a great opportunity,” Pierson said.

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