Courtland: Focusing on the future

GSA's value proposition of the future ought to capitalize on past successes

Inside the Beltway, bashing the General Services Administration has become a popular sport. GSA unwittingly encourages it by repetitively responding to criticism with the same mantra: "We will attract/retain customers by providing good customer service and adding value."

Agency officials sigh and roll their eyes when they hear that credo because GSA has not defined customer service or explained how they will add value. If the idea is simply to work harder at doing the same thing, agencies aren't -- and won't be -- buying it.

Although GSA critics have plenty of material to work with, the agency still has successes to boast about -- and more importantly -- capitalize on. Perhaps we will hear a different response to criticism now that GSA has a nominee for administrator.

By all measures, the decline in GSA's assisted acquisition services will continue. In the past, those services were attractive to agency customers because GSA fulfilled needs quickly, provided customers a way to retain expiring information technology funds and offered the aid of a contracting officer or acquisition IT expertise for agencies that had none.

As a result of the well-publicized IT fund misuses and subsequent Get It Right program, the first two reasons are no longer in play. The only remaining customer draw for GSA's assisted acquisition shop is supplementing an agency's contracting officer or short-handed contracting officer technical representative workforce.

The fallacy in GSA's planned remedy is the unrealistic belief that it can attract already-lost customers to the same organization that now has only one of its previous three benefits. Outside GSA, no one thinks the agency will realize its dream. Unless the government dissolves GSA or remakes it into a mandatory acquisition source, only one option seems to remain: Find a way to capitalize on the one remaining asset by promoting it to customers through a different organization -- one that has a successful track record.

Within the former Federal Technology Service organization, only one success story remains -- FTS 2001. In hindsight, this contract can be viewed as the birth of the next generation of governmentwide acquisition contracts. The Networx contract has further refined the concept of an acquisition vehicle for dummies, as easy to use as an order-by-number menu. For users, a super-GWAC such as Networx provides competition compliance; a narrow selection of quality vendors; prenegotiated pricing, terms and conditions; and compliance with the federal enterprise architecture and federal IT security policy.

Why not capitalize on the success and appeal of this type of vehicle? For agency customers, it provides a means of compliance with directives from the Bush administration and the Office of Management and Budget. It also reduces an agency's need to enlarge or enhance its in-house acquisition workforce. Fewer contracting officers are necessary to issue and process super-GWAC task orders than for setting up standalone contracts.

The Federal Acquisition Service's IT Solutions is already capitalizing on the Networx model by duplicating it in the latest version of Alliant. Some critics don't like the move because, they say, the delay is not worthwhile and it is unnecessary to include federal initiatives and polices, such as the federal enterprise architecture, at the contract level. The delay should be acceptable considering that the main contract is worth potentially $50 billion in a 10-year period and the program shop that is responsible for managing it is simultaneously saddled with five other large procurements.

To answer the second contention, I remind the critics that the federal government has not had success when agencies rely on their acquisition employees to include IT security requirements at the task-order level. So I do not understand the objection.

For their part, GSA's leaders have failed to recognize that the Networx super-GWAC model is the agency's most valuable asset. GSA should make that model the centerpiece of their new model in terms of their organizational and leadership structure and resource distribution.

The first step would be to move the majority of full-time employees and resources from the ITS assisted acquisition shop into the program service and delivery shop. In the short term, GSA could more quickly make the Networx awards and then revise and release the final Alliant requests for proposals. The next step would be to ensure that Deidre Lee's former position and the FAS commissioner position are permanently filled by individuals who can credibly provide leadership in the context of this new model.

Hopefully, a confirmed GSA administrator will seriously consider these changes.

Courtland is a senior associate at Dutko Government Markets. Before joining Dutko, she was the senior political aide and policy analyst at the Office of Management and Budget's acquisition policy shop.

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