Editorial: Merge with caution

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"GSA remixed"

Large mergers can be very difficult. Just ask Hewlett-Packard's recently ousted chief executive officer, Carly Fiorina. Therefore, officials within the Bush administration and the General Services Administration should tread carefully as they try to reorganize the procurement agency.

The Bush administration's budget proposal says that GSA must merge the Federal Supply Service and the Federal Technology Service to eliminate redundancies and improve oversight. The budget puts both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue — the White House and Congress — on the same page: GSA needs to be reformed.

The administration suggests merging the two into a single Federal Supply and Technology Service. The specifics remain largely up in the air, of course. Undoubtedly, there would be economies of scale. But are those economies worth the costs? And is everyone fully aware of the cost of such a merger — both financially and organizationally?

The idea seems to be on a bullet train, and one begins to wonder: What is the rush?

The reorganization of GSA has been spurred by a number of issues, such as the misallocation of funds at FTS regions and concern about contracts being used for something other than their purpose. Those issues must be addressed, but do they necessitate a full makeover of GSA? And will they solve the problems?

FSS and FTS have distinct missions. FSS, which runs the schedule contracts, speeds the contracting process, while FTS has helped agencies with procurements. Although both organizations focus on procurement, the services they offer are unique.

Furthermore, these are two organizations that, despite some relatively minor problems, have been successful. Much like the doctors' axiom urges, reformers' first goal should be to do no harm.

We hope that Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) will ask the necessary questions. In a recent interview with Federal Computer Week, he made it clear that fixing the problems at GSA is near the top of his agenda.

Some have speculated that the administration proposed the reorganization in an effort to stay in front of Davis' plans. If that is true, that may explain the rush to reorganize.

The cornerstone of any reorganization should be to fix the problems and help GSA officials do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. n

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