Editorial: Competition matters

After years of quiet passivity, it is refreshing to see strong leadership from the General Services Administration. That being said, GSA’s attempt to bring more contracts under its purview is misguided.

GSA Administrator Lurita Doan said she would like the agency to oversee NASA’s Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement (SEWP) governmentwide acquisition contract program — and one would expect that GSA would want to control most governmentwide contracts. There are two problems with that plan.

First, GSA needs to fix its own shop before the agency will be ready to control other contracts. Doan has made impressive steps toward making GSA once again the pre-eminent procurement organization in the federal government, and there is a palpable sense that GSA is improving, but the agency is not yet fixed.

By contrast, SEWP has been doing impressive business, garnering loyalty from those who use the contracts and the SEWP vendors.

Doan makes a fair point that most agencies should focus on their core missions, not procurement and contracting. By contrast, governmentwide contracting is GSA’s mission. Yet while Doan argues that “GSA is the premier location for procurement,” GSA has to convince its customers.

But there is a more important question — should all contracts be kept together? We don’t think so.

One of the tenets of the procurement reforms instituted in the past decade has been competition — competition at almost every phase of the buying process, including competition among contracts.

Having one organization manage all governmentwide contracts may seem to be efficient, but it ignores the benefits that result from competition. GSA is on a better path, but it is on that path as a result of competition. Agencies started looking at other governmentwide contracts — or they created their own contracts — when GSA was no longer addressing those needs and became too expensive.

Rather than asking to take over other contracts, GSA should look to provide superior service. GSA has a real opportunity to prove itself, but that should be through competition, not as the result of a policy decision.

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