Perry tests his mettle

In his spacious office in the General Services Administration headquarters, Administrator Stephen Perry settles back into a chair, steeples his fingers and contemplates a question: Is he satisfied with the progress that GSA made last year on the initiatives it undertook?

Perry responds after only a moment's reflection.

"You're never satisfied," he said.

Nevertheless, Perry is pleased with the course the agency is pursuing. Serving as GSA's administrator since 2001, he brings years of private-sector experience to the role. He and his leadership team now are beginning to see results from several of their initiatives to streamline and refocus the agency.

His agenda for 2004 includes continued work on the realignment of GSA's Federal Technology Service and Federal Supply Service. The agency is also eliminating some of its governmentwide contracts, which will be replaced by a new vehicle called Alliant.

Agency officials are adding professional services contracts to their repertoire of assisted procurements. They are also trying to develop a sweeping new telecommunications vehicle, while grappling with a minor scandal involving the misuse of information technology funds in some regional offices.

One of Perry's priorities is renewing the agency's effort to understand and address customer needs, he said.

He and other GSA officials conducted customer service visits last year, in which they talked to officials at other agencies about what they need from GSA.

"We came away from those meetings with a long list of to-dos," he said. "We used to do that [information gathering] reactively. We're trying to be more proactive."

It's all part of Perry's "One GSA" vision, in which FTS, FSS and the Public Buildings Service work together to serve agencies with the least amount of difficulty.

The 2002 realignment, in which FSS and FTS officials traded some functions in an effort to increase their effectiveness, was the beginning of the effort.

"As we were streamlining, we found that there were some unmet customer needs," he said. One need Perry addressed quickly was the lack of help available for procuring professional services.

The assisted procurement service that FTS offers helps agencies define their needs, develop requirements and make smart purchases. Agency officials have added three professional services contracts to the service and plan to add five more.

GSA officials started with contracts that cover logistics, professional engineering services and management services. Once FTS employees become adept at offering assistance on those, the agency will add others, Perry said.

"We're off to a good start on the first three," he said. "That's plenty to start with."

As Perry sits in the chair, positioned at one end of a coffee table under portraits of President Bush and Vice President Dick

Cheney, he acknowledges that he faces a daunting job. GSA has gained an increasingly visible profile in federal procurement as the new initiatives unfold.

Members of Congress have called for an overhaul of FTS, after a GSA inspector general's investigation revealed that employees in at least three field offices misused funds and broke other procurement rules. GSA officials say they have quickly addressed those problems with training and better management.

"There are many, many GSA issues, but from the standpoint of our community, the successful transition of the FTS and FSS reorganization

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