Guerra: Quit the monopoly talk

Rather than trying to grab successful contracts, GSA should seek to emulate their success

The General Services Administration’s strategy to establish itself as the government’s acquisition monopoly by absorbing the successful contracts of numerous agencies and preventing new ones from being awarded is being met with skepticism and derision from federal agencies and businesses for three reasons.

First, GSA has lost enormous respect and credibility in the eyes of its customers in the past five years. Respect is not returned simply because a new management team has arrived, no matter how worthy and powerful the team might be. Customers are justifiably angry at how GSA treated them in recent years.

Organizations earn respect and credibility by proving their capability and value. GSA cannot expect that agencies and businesses will immediately return to it. GSA needs to concentrate on what is needed to recapture the credibility and respect it once had as a leader in acquisition management.

Second, GSA does not seem to comprehend the value of the contracts it wishes to absorb from other agencies. Those are not commodity contracts for general-purpose items. In the case of NASA’s highly regarded and successful Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement contract, SEWP and its management team are focused on the specific requirements for a highly complex scientific and engineering environment. GSA has not demonstrated the special capability in that environment that the NASA team has shown.

SEWP, like the Army Information Technology Enterprise Solutions (ITES) and Commerce Information Technology Solutions (COMMITS) contracts, is successful because it meets a specific market need. Third, GSA has yet to make a concerted effort to understand why contracts such as NASA’s SEWP, the Army’s ITES, Commerce’s COMMITS and the National Institutes of Health’s Chief Information Officer Solutions and Partners contract became so successful while GSA revenues and contract use declined.

In the private sector, companies compete with one another, and they benchmark one another’s business processes to understand and replicate best practices. Perhaps SEWP and those other contracts are successful because they are focused on specific markets with program teams whose members are aligned with the success of their users.

Attempting to re-establish GSA’s relevance by making it a monopoly is not the right answer. As noted by Michael Moiseyev, assistant director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition, “Monopolies almost always lead to higher prices, lower quality and inferior services.” Relevance and market share are gained by providing superior service at competitive prices. GSA is moving in the right direction with its reorganization and the quality of employees it is attracting.

GSA Administrator Lurita Doan has chosen an exceptional leadership team in Jim Williams, John Johnson, Marty Wagner and, if rumors are to be believed, Mike Sade. Now GSA needs to concentrate on its biggest need, which is to stabilize its workforce and improve employee morale.

GSA needs to benchmark rather than try to absorb or kill competitive contracts. After solidifying a motivated, competent and innovative workforce and proving its value, GSA should abandon its effort to establish an acquisition monopoly. Instead, it should compete aggressively with those other contract vehicles.

Guerra is a partner at Guerra Kiviat.

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