Customers creep away from GSA

During Martha Johnson's nomination hearing, senators discuss GSA's departed customers

During Martha Johnson’s nomination hearing to be administrator of the General Services Administration, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) struck at the core of a major issue for the procurement agency: departed customers.

Lieberman: Give me your response to what seems to be a kind of creeping away by various federal agencies from using GSA, particularly for contracting, which undercuts the basic purpose of the agency.

Johnson: I have a rather broad view of that. As a result of the Clinger-Cohen Act and some of the changes that were made in the 1990s, GSA moved from being the mandated source for much of the supplies and services and is now more of a one-among-many, non-mandated company store, if you will, as it was historically.

The first rounds of response to those new authorities and possibilities on the part of other agencies meant that they wanted to establish their own contracting capacities. And I think that was a wave of response to long years of GSA being basically one of the few organizations that did that.

I believe in that process, the acquisition workforce has been dispersed much more broadly around government, which is a very critical issue. There is a lot of duplication, and there is a lot of overlapping and probably inefficiencies.

I believe the thinking behind this is appropriate. I don’t believe having a sort of monolithic source for contracts is the exact right answer. But I am concerned about moving into a change in this because of the dispersion of the acquisition workforce.

I also believe this is a bit of a market gesture, if you will, around the performance of GSA. We would like to earn our customers through performance rather than through mandate. And that would be my attitude moving forward and where I would put my energy. So performance is certainly the proper response.

Lieberman: That’s a good attitude to go forward with, and I think you’re right that it is a market response. I agree with you. There is something to be gained from the competition, but sometimes it can be a loss, too.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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