GSA opens up the reorganization playbook

Agency leaders disclose their initial plans for the new Federal Acquisition Service

The General Services Administration has talked about its reorganization for months, but now it’s official. President Bush signed the necessary legislation Oct. 6. But experts say GSA still faces deeper challenges than its internal restructuring.

“The ordinary GSA customer in an agency office doesn’t know or care how GSA arranges the chairs around the management table,” said John Okay, a partner at Topside Consulting Group. Customers want quality service without hassles or delays, and GSA has to show it can deliver that, he said.

The GSA Modernization Act creates the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) by blending the duties of the Federal Technology Service (FTS) and the Federal Supply Service (FSS). It also forms the Acquisition Services Fund to replace the Information Technology Fund and the General Supply Fund.

GSA Administrator Lurita Doan signed an order to coincide with the bill’s passage. The order essentially implements GSA’s reorganization plan with several new provisions. Notably, the new order abolishes the six FAS zones that had been part of the earlier plan. FAS will operate through GSA’s existing 11 regional offices. FAS Commissioner Jim Williams said last week that the agency wants to take more time to determine the proper long-term approach.

Other changes in the new order include the establishment of an Office of Assisted Acquisition Services, which combines the Federal Systems Integration and Management Center and the Regional IT Solutions and Professional Services organizations into a single entity. The order also establishes an Office of Strategic Business Planning and Process Improvement to oversee long-term planning for FAS.

GSA has long been considered the premier government acquisition agency, responsible for helping other agencies procure products and services through a variety of contracts. Through FSS and FTS, each year GSA buys products and services worth more than $30 billion from the private sector. The legislation gives GSA “a much-needed reorganization and streamlining,” according to a House committee report on the bill.

Procurement experts say they are watching closely as the reorganization’s executors, Doan and Williams, tackle the challenge of restructuring in the midst of a recent slump in business.

The impetus for creating FAS was the realization that many acquisitions can no longer be neatly divided into IT acquisitions and other purchases.

Under the old structure, the IT Fund was intended to be used for IT purchases only, and some GSA local offices ran afoul of the rules by using the fund for other types of acquisitions.

GSA had been operating in a kind of limbo for the past several years, launching a campaign called “Get It Right” in 2004 to address the problem of employees overlooking procurement rules. Employee morale and service quality should begin to rise again now that the legislation has passed, Okay said.

“The reorganization dragged on much too long and consumed scarce time and energy on internal GSA issues while customers continued to walk away,” he said.

To make life go well for a restructured GSA, FAS has to be flexible to meet customers where they are at this moment, said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

“For some, that means offering schedules and direct contractor-to-customer [governmentwide acquisition contract] business, without GSA being in the middle,” he said.

Some customers simply are not prepared to hand GSA their project management business, but they still will want to buy from its schedules or GWACs. Allowing that “enables GSA to maintain a customer relationship now and a solid footing to pursue project management business later,” Allen said.

Rebranding is one order of new business for GSAThe General Services Administration’s reorganization plan has some GSA watchers concerned that the agency is losing its brand identity.

In merging the Federal Supply Service and the Federal Technology Service into the Federal Acquisition Service, GSA tossed out two brand names that had value to the agency’s federal customers, said Bob Woods, a former FTS commissioner and now president of Topside Consulting Group. The agency will have to build a brand identity for FAS with customers who are wary of GSA, he said.

Jim Williams, FAS commissioner, said he agreed that FTS and FSS are well-respected brand names. But at a press briefing last week, he said GSA has an opportunity and an obligation to establish a new service. FTS and FSS have been brand names not only for customers but also for GSA employees, he said, adding that both groups will need to adjust to the new structure.

John Okay, a partner at Topside Consulting, said GSA should harmonize all of FAS’ contracts and services early by blending FTS and FSS offerings and market a single message about their importance. FTS and FSS employees will be brought under the FAS banner, he added. “They should start acting as one face to the customer.”

— Matthew Weigelt

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