GSA acquisition team gets down to business

Some leaders aren't hailed with cheers and thunderous applause. Instead, they make people realize it’s time to get to work.

Some agency leaders can inspire employees with a vision of the future and motivate them to work hard to achieve it. Those leaders enter as if they rode in on a white stallion.

Other leaders arrive on a workhorse. They aren’t hailed with cheers or thunderous applause. Instead, they make people realize that it’s time to get down to business.

Steve Kempf has been commissioner of the General Services Administration’s Federal Acquisition Service since July, and he arrived leading a workhorse. In an interview before taking on that role, Kempf said his strategy “will largely be in the context of this administration, GSA’s current thinking and then finally where FAS wants to take the [Multiple Award] Schedules program.”

Kempf gave his first speech as commissioner Nov. 2 at the Coalition for Government Procurement’s annual Fall Conference. The gathering lacked an atmosphere of excitement or lavish praise for Kempf.

“He’s not making a lot of waves, and there are no big steps,” said John Howell, a partner at the Sullivan and Worcester law firm, after the speech.

It seems that the leaders on white stallions are already here and have cast their grand visions. Kempf specifically referenced Obama administration officials “who see GSA as an asset” and GSA Administrator Martha Johnson. Johnson has enthused GSA employees since 2009 with her vision of customer intimacy, innovation and operational excellence.

Kempf’s vision is simple, and it’s about work. “It’s very important for us to meet our obligations and our commitments” to make FAS the No. 1 brand, he said.

He said that in the next decade, FAS will become agencies’ first choice when they need to make a purchase because FAS will offer easy-to-use tools, fast service and a wealth of options.

Kempf is moving ahead on many fronts by taking the infrastructure that was already in place and making it work. He is launching new Web-based tools, including eOffer/eMod, which allows companies to electronically submit new offers and requested modifications to their schedule contracts. Early in 2011, GSA officials plan to enable government customers to manage their contracts online with such tools.

Kempf also said he recognizes the growing importance of data in this era of transparency. He said FAS customers need to have easy access to data about sales and pricing so they can see whether they’re getting the best deal for their money. And he plans to get that information for them.

A Knack for Getting Things Done

Roger Waldron, new president of the Coalition for Government Procurement and a retired GSA official, said Kempf is working on projects that started during Waldron’s tenure at the agency.

“He’s carrying them to fruition,” Waldron said, adding that the projects are important building blocks.

Although Kempf is not making waves, Howell and others are quick to say he was a good choice for FAS commissioner.

A GSA employee who attended the conference said Kempf knows FAS well. He joined GSA in 1992 as a marketing coordinator at the Office of Technology Assistance and has since held leadership positions at the Federal Systems Integration and Management Center, the Office of Integrated Technology Services and FAS.

Kempf knows FAS' challenges because he has been on the front lines for years and has worked on the operational and strategic sides, said the employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The employee added that Kempf couples experience with research. Kempf marshals his resources well and can often point employees to research that is relevant to their particular projects.

Kempf’s success as FAS commissioner will likely center on collecting more data about pricing and transparency. He will also be a leader in the emerging world of green procurement, the employee said.

Furthermore, Kempf is down to earth and doesn’t think of himself as above everyone else. “He’s not in an ivory tower or on a high horse,” the employee said.

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