Doan’s plan for GSA's Renaissance
New administrator shares her vision for righting the troubled agency
It’s appropriate that Lurita Alexis Doan draws inspiration from the Renaissance—after all, the new administrator of the General Services Administration is trying to pull the much-maligned agency through a rebirth of its own.
In fact, Doan—who has just completed her first 30 days on the job—is not only aiming to reform GSA, but significantly alter government contracting.
“This is an agency that touches every aspect of government,” Doan said. “Almost every other agency has a core mission it is responsible for: The Defense Department does military, NASA does space, the Treasury Department does money—they’ve got a mission. GSA, our job is to touch and facilitate everybody else’s mission, so that in addition to doing what we do, we have to understand everything that everyone else does.”
While this is, no doubt, a daunting task, these kinds of problems don’t seem overwhelming for Doan, who can quote Shakespeare and talk enterprise architecture in the same breath.
Doan came to GSA after studying Renaissance literature in graduate school and, in 1990, founding New Technology Management Inc., an IT company based in Reston, Va. Her background in the arts provides her with inspiration to believe in herself, she said, while her experience with technology gives her the tools and know-how to talk shop.
“I think it’s good for the employees because I think sometimes for the techie guys and girls, it’s hard for them when people are glazing over when they are trying to explain a very important concept,” she said. “The one thing they know is I’m absolutely with them in the trenches, because I love this stuff.”
Doan is moving quickly to set a new tone for GSA. She is making clear her intent to not only improve and restore GSA’s mission and morale, but make her agency the only stop for federal procurement.
In particular, Doan said she wants to end the “proliferation” of governmentwide acquisition and multiple award contracts developed by agencies other than her own, such as NASA’s Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement and various Defense Department acquisitions such as the Navy’s Seaport-e and the Army’s IT Enterprise Services-2.
Doan said these agencies—and the government overall—would be better served if they let GSA handle the procurement business while they focus on their core missions.
“I’m kind of confused when I see something like NASA’s SEWP coming along,” she said. “You know, those are the guys in the sky, that’s their job. Our job is to put the infrastructure in place that makes that possible, at least the commodity part of it.”Too much duplication
Doan’s predecessor, Stephen Perry, who resigned last October, also supported the idea of GSA or a few agencies taking over many of the large-scale, commodity procurements for government. He said too many agencies are duplicating what GSA already is doing.
Doan said another potential contracting storm is brewing over the Treasury Communications Enterprise contract—a 10-year, $1 billion telecommunications contract. She said Treasury should seriously consider ending that procurement and taking telecom services through GSA’s massive Networx vehicle.
Networx, a telecommunications GWAC worth $20 billion, will be awarded next March, she said.
“I think it is important that we not appear to be aiding and abetting contract proliferation. It is something I don’t believe is in their best interest,” she said. “I believe Networx is going to be a superior contract with superior rates for telecom, and I think it’s important for them.”
Moreover, setting up and maintaining a procurement work-force is a difficult, expensive task, she said.
As more agencies move in this direction, it reduces their buying power and could mean the agency is not getting the best deal.
“It’s just confusing to me when you see agencies that are doing things that are not within their core competencies,” she said. “And you know their costs of performing that work is greater than ours.”
Concerns about contract proliferation have reached the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, which established an interagency working group to analyze the issue late last year.
Doan said she has met with Office of Management and Budget officials as well as House Government Reform Committee staff to discuss the subject.
In fact, Doan said she told her staff to determine just how much it costs an agency to establish a GWAC and compare it with coming to GSA.
“I am pretty sure that it will be hard for these other agencies to justify cost savings, charging taxpayer dollars for these particular efforts,” she said. “Why would a customer chose to go to another GWAC outside GSA when it is not necessarily in their agency’s work area or, cost-wise, in their best interest?”Win back customers
This is a part of her strategy to win back business, which won’t be easy.
GSA over the past few years has seen a steady drop in customers and confidence, leading several agencies to go solo for major acquisitions.
Defense, for one, considered cutting a significant chunk of its business with GSA because of past contracting and accounting irregularities.
These concerns have been assuaged, for the most part, by a recent GSA inspector general report that stated the agency has applied comprehensive internal controls and revamped accounting processes.
The loss of customers has resulted in a revenue downturn within certain divisions at GSA, most notably its national IT Services shop, which will see revenues drop to $1.4 billion in 2006 from $1.9 billion last year.
This has prompted GSA and its newly formed Federal Acquisition Service—a merger of the Federal Technology and Federal Supply services—to implement a hiring freeze and offer buyouts to nearly 400 employees.
To date, 150 employees have taken the buyouts, a GSA spokesman said, and Doan is leaving the question of whether more buyouts are needed to new FAS commissioner Jim Williams.
Doan said she’s aware of the challenges and is confident that, through consistent and sustained outreach, the agency will win back confidence.
“We care about the customer, but we didn’t always do the important thing and tell them we care,” she said. “So sometimes, at least in business, you have to let the customer know that you appreciate their business.”
Doan said she is meeting with DOD officials and also has crisscrossed the country to meet not only with customers it has maintained but those it has lost as well.
These customers, or former customers, have plenty of reasons to be skeptical of GSA, but Doan said she is convinced that, in the end, having a central shop for government procurement is smart business.
“When you put the entire weight of the government behind a procurement effort, what you have is a huge buying power,” she said.
“The economies of scale that you can insist on—not ask for, but insist on—from a vendor are so much more powerful.”
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