Jim Williams: Rebuilding GSA by focusing on customers

Jim Williams, the new commissioner of the General Services Administration’s Federal Acquisition Service, said he intends to rebuild GSA’s business by being more in tune with customers and creating new business models — two strategies on which industry experts and GSA appear to agree.

“We have to build our service offerings so they are something the agencies want,” Williams said. “We have to be in tune with what our customers want.”

He added that GSA has few options other than to work through its business problems. “We have some selective trouble spots,” he said. “We have some business models that are not working so well.”

But he said he is ready to tackle his new job. “Frankly, I like big challenges,” he said. “We can’t lose sight [of the fact] that we do this for customers.”

Meanwhile, until its business turns around, GSA might have to offer additional targeted early-outs and buyouts to certain employees, Williams said.

He said he wants to avoid losing employees, but the financial situation at GSA could require it. About 150 employees took advantage of early-outs and buyouts in June. Lurita Doan, who became GSA’s administrator at the end of May, said she would prefer not to further reduce the number of employees but deferred to Williams on that decision. The first round was initiated before Doan and Williams came to GSA.

GSA faces the need to consider offering more early-outs and buyouts in selected, targeted areas to balance revenue and expenses, Williams said. “I have to look at those situations with a realistic eye.”

GSA develops new services
As part of its strategy to adapt and create new business models, GSA recently began offering a new service to help agencies meet their responsibilities under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, which requires them to issue secure identity credentials to employees and contractors beginning Oct. 27.

GSA’s HSPD-12 service is based on customers’ needs, Williams said.

GSA officials have said the service will save customers money through bulk purchases of goods that comply with the directive. GSA will also add approved products to its schedules list. How much agencies will save is unclear, however, because prices remain uncertain, officials said.

In addition to providing services, GSA’s HSPD-12 Managed Service Office will handle all Federal Acquisition Service offerings, including products and assisted-service acquisitions.

Challenges mount
GSA faces the challenge of building viable business models as a fee-based agency, Williams said. But more important, GSA has to offer services agencies want, he said. “That means staying very close to the customer.”

In a July interview, Doan said repeat business comes from offering services that customers need, a view that Williams apparently shares with his new boss.

Vendors and industry experts praised Doan’s selection of Williams to head FAS. Judith Nelson, EZGSA’s director of government contracts, noted that Williams has a track record of success in federal procurement. He was previously director of the Homeland Security Department’s U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program and earlier served as director of GSA’s Local Telecommunications Procurement Division.

Frank Pugliese, a former Federal Supply Service commissioner who is now managing director of government business development at DuPont, said Williams understands the acquisition process, especially for large procurements.

However, Williams is in an awkward position, Pugliese said. He faces a lot of sticky issues at a time when GSA must bring customers back and generate revenue.

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