Taking seat to task
- By Diane Frank
- Feb 20, 2000
After creating a contract that is changing the way the federal government
performs desktop outsourcing, the General Services Administration cautions
other agencies that contracting out may not be trouble-free.
The $9 billion Seat Management contract created by GSA's Federal Technology
Service in 1998 is intended to provide agencies with a way to outsource
their everyday network, hardware and software management to a single vendor.
But when GSA awarded its own Seat Management task order, it discovered that
vendors need more program and policy assistance upfront than expected.
GSA has also had to navigate around standardization and management problems
and surmount difficulties caused by agency and vendor personnel not clearly
understanding what services were to be provided.
Every agency should be alert for such problems when entering into Seat
Management contracts, federal officials said.
"The need to prepare is something that we've been saying all along,"
said Chris Wren, program manager for the Seat Management program office
that created and manages the contract. "Seat Management is not a silver
bullet. If you have not done your homework upfront, it won't make your life
GSA, which awarded its task order on the Seat Management contract to
Litton/PRC Inc. in December 1998, this month decided to develop a second
task order. PRC will finish its implementation at Washington, D.C.-area
offices during the next few months, and the new vendor will compete with
PRC for the business at the rest of the D.C. offices and in GSA's eight
GSA's D.C.-area implementation includes support for more than 2,100
employees. But late last summer the agency started to question PRC's ability
to serve that many seats and expand to the additional 12,000 regional employees.
"We were concerned about the support that PRC was able to provide,"
said Bill Piatt, GSA's chief information officer. "We were pushing them
very fast, and as we got into the last month, it appeared we were stretching
Part of the problem was the lack of understanding within GSA of what
the Seat Management contract is supposed to do for employees, Piatt said.
To solve the problem, GSA now has a single person on the Seat Management
implementation team dedicated to such awareness.
PRC also worked to increase communication with GSA employees about what
to expect from Seat Management.
"That is a significant lesson learned, to have a team that is focused
on nothing but communication," said Cora Carmody, CIO at PRC. "There is
no shortage of the handholding that needs to be done. When you are taking
an organization through such a cultural change, you need to be communicating
human to human."
GSA also found that the lack of standard hardware and software within
the agency slowed the implementation.
"Our lack of standardization internally complicated the entire matter,"
Agencies considering Seat Management, including the Commerce Department
and the Army Materiel Command, should not expect the contract to organize
their agency without additional upfront work, said Judy Gerber, program
manager for Seat Management implementation at the Treasury Department's
"Lack of standardization is a problem; the best way to manage is to
have standardization," she said. "It's easier to manage, it's easier to
support, it's easier to maintain."
Treasury's departmental offices have been working with standard information
technology for several years, with a group in the CIO's office determining
The CIO gained complete financial control over IT investments almost
10 years ago, and both factors have played heavily in the agency's Seat
Management success thus far, Gerber said.