Editorial: What's the difference?

And so it begins. The General Services Administration has released a final plan for reorganizing its operations. Basic details have been well-known for a while, and last week's document filled in other missing information. Now everyone is waiting to see what difference all this reshuffling will make.

The most significant change is that GSA is merging the Federal Supply Service and the Federal Technology Service into the Federal Acquisition Service, addressing long-standing concerns about redundancies between the two.

The plan also gives top managers more oversight of regional customer support centers, where many acquisition irregularities have arisen. Many people, including some in GSA, say the agency has had trouble addressing those problems because the centers have been essentially autonomous, reporting to regional administrators rather than GSA headquarters.

This raises a simple question: What difference will the reorganization make?

One angle to consider: Does GSA go far enough? Under the new plan, regional operations will fall into six zones, with employees reporting to headquarters if they are working on national programs and to regional administrators if serving local customers. Some observers wonder if this two-pronged approach creates enough accountability or will exist only on paper.

But there's another angle: Does the plan go too far? No one would sanction the misuse of procurement flexibilities, but no one wants to lose those flexibilities, either, in a bureaucratic morass. Industry officials are especially concerned about the merger of FSS and FTS. Although overlaps existed, each organization had a unique focus, with FSS managing high-volume, price-driven product and service purchases, and FTS working closely with customers on more complex, custom-built services procurements. Even as they combine the organizations, GSA officials must respect their differences.

None of this is to find fault with the reorganization plan. Instead, it is only to remind GSA officials to keep sight of their primary mission of providing acquisition services governmentwide and not undermine those services in the course of fixing GSA's internal problems.

— John S. Monroe

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