Officials debate overlap in GSA contracts

Federal Supply Service

The General Services Administration is well on its way to completing the first thorough study of potential duplication across its information technology offerings, but experts say that should only be the first step in an examination of all federal IT contracts.

Many in government and industry have expressed concern about the potential duplication of offerings between GSA's Federal Technology Service and Federal Supply Service, and whether that duplication is keeping agencies from getting the best value out of their IT contracts.

In January, GSA commissioned Accenture to conduct an independent study on this issue (see box). Accenture will hand over the results of its study April 30, including "strategies to improve GSA's performance," said Dwight Hutchins, a partner in Accenture's U.S. federal government practice.

However, until that study is complete, not enough data is available to do more than express an opinion about potential overlap, said David Cooper, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the General Accounting Office.

"There is no information that will tell you whether we are in fact getting the best value," he testified at a hearing of the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee April 11.

And although GSA's contracts are the most popular in government, some wonder whether there is overlap among all the IT contracts available to agencies across government, experts testified at the hearing. Other governmentwide contracts include the National Institutes of Health's Electronic Computer Store II and the Transportation Department's Information Technology Omnibus Procurement II.

The choice offered to agencies on these contracts is important, but could cause confusion and keep agencies from finding the contract vehicle that can provide the best value, Cooper said.

In addition, vendors are required to compete for all of the contracts, incurring extra costs that are then passed on to the agencies, said Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement, an industry group representing more than 300 vendors.

"While you will rarely have an individual company comment publicly, [privately] companies tell us that the existing overlap takes valuable time away from providing customer service, the true mission of most contractors, and inevitably increases the cost of acquisition to the government," Allen said.

Initial reviews by GAO and the GSA inspector general, Daniel Levinson, showed that there is overlap mostly in the area of IT services offered on FSS schedules and FTS governmentwide contracts, but it is hard to compare services, even when offered by the same vendors, Cooper said. Just because services overlap does not mean there is duplication, he said.

In addition to the Accenture study, GSA is developing metrics to measure the impact of its contract vehicles on agencies' missions. The results of those steps could be used to expand the review to the rest of government, Cooper said.

GSA's new metrics are intended to go beyond sales figures to the monetary and resource savings agencies realize by using the FSS and FTS contracts, according to Stephen Perry, GSA's administrator.

Initial ideas on the metrics include measuring the cost to agencies and the benefits they received by going through the various GSA vehicles, compared to the time and money they would have spent procuring the IT products and services on their own, he said.

"The goal ought to be to make sure [agencies] can fulfill their missions," said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the subcommittee.

However, it will not be easy to put metrics in place to measure the impact on agencies because so much of the information will have to come from the agencies themselves, and they are often unwilling to share that kind of information with GSA, Perry said.

The subcommittee must wait for the results of the Accenture study before suggesting any other action at GSA. But the information and concerns raised at the hearing could prompt a broader review of governmentwide IT contracts, said Davis' spokesman, David Marin.


Scrutinizing IT contracts

In January, the General Services Administration commissioned Accenture to conduct an independent study of potential duplication in information technology contracts for GSA's Federal Technology Service and Federal Supply Service. The study, due April 30, has the following objectives:

* Customer and market analysis. This phase of the study — which has been completed — addressed customers' needs and why customers are using, or not using, GSA's services.

* Internal capabilities assessment. In this phase, Accenture identified areas for potential improvement within GSA.

* Improvement-strategy development. In the final phase of the study, Accenture will help GSA executives develop an improvement strategy.


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