House ponders GSA overhaul

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"GSA remixed"

Members of Congress probed General Services Administration officials today on plans to merge the two agency’s major procurement branches. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee, expressed his support for merging the Federal Technology and Federal Supply services today during a committee hearing.

GSA has been under pressure to better enforce procurement rules, streamline inefficiencies and eliminate redundancies between FSS and FTS. The proposed 2006 budget would require GSA officials to combine the services and the funds they draw on. Officials have formed an internal team to develop a plan to do that.

Davis noted that the two services originally served different purposes. FSS, through its schedule contracts, provides agencies a mechanism to buy goods and services at pre-negotiated prices, while FTS provides more hands-on help for more complex telecommunications and information technology acquisitions.

"While the bifurcated system may have made sense two decades ago when IT investments were a relatively new phenomenon, technologies such as laptop computers, cell phones and e-mail are now as ubiquitous with office supplies as are desks and phones," Davis said. "Two separate buying organizations operating out of different funds has become a barrier to coordinated acquisition of services and the technology needed to support the total solutions agency customers demand."

Despite GSA’s apparently willing embrace of the merger goal, some skeptics remain. Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, pointed out that FSS and FTS still serve different purposes.

"They don’t seem like a natural fit to me," he said. "There’s a big difference between purchasing paper and purchasing technology and no consolidation will erase that."

However, he added, he is keeping an open mind on the merits of combining the two.

Eugene Waszily, assistant inspector general at GSA, told the committee that his office supports merging the IT Fund with the General Fund, because "there are far too many discussions about whether something is IT or not IT." Those debates slow the procurement process for the sake of ensuring the purchase is made out of the correct fund, he said.

"We are not strongly supportive of or opposed to the merger of the services," he added.

Leaders of industry groups, including the IT Association of America and the Professional Services Council, also testified that GSA needs to be restructured. However, Richard Brown, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said that combining the two organizations would hurt GSA’s workforce, and that “the rank-and-file employees at GSA vehemently oppose a merger.”

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