Doan’s back-to-basics plan for GSA

Cutting GWAC proliferation, cleaning up agency’s bottom line are among the top priorities

Lurita Doan is making it plain and clear: This is not your father’s General Services Administration. But it could be your grandfather’s.

Doan hopes that by the time she leaves the agency when George W. Bush leaves the White House in 2009, GSA will resemble the vision former President Harry Truman had when he created the agency in the late 1940s—the government’s first and only choice for commodities procurement.

Whether implementing the agency’s sweeping reorganization, which Congress recently approved, aggressively carving out governmentwide acquisition contracting as a GSA-only niche and reducing the time and costs for businesses to get on GSA schedules, or cutting inefficient and ineffective programs to improve the agency’s bottom line, she intends that GSA will be a much different organization than the one she inherited only a few months ago.

“When President Bush chose me as the new administrator, he wanted someone who might be willing to take a fresh look at some old problems,” Doan said in a recent speech in Washington. “That’s exactly what he got.”

Industry observers have noticed a difference—if not in the agency’s appearance, then at least in its attitude and ambition.

“She has a very compelling message, and she has a clear focus of what she wants to accomplish,” said Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president of the Professional Services Council, an industry association in Arlington, Va.

Double challenges

But Chvotkin noted that she may be taking on too much too quickly.

“She is taking on a twin set of challenges—GSA challenges [such as the agency’s reorganization] and interagency challenges,” such as trying to fight the proliferation of governmentwide acquisition contracts outside GSA, he said. “To her credit, she is setting the bar high, but you need to do it one day at a time.”

In terms of policy, Doan is making the reduction of GWACs offered by other agencies her biggest priority. She has delivered this message before, but it has become more urgent, as Doan has formally taken her case to the White House’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Taking aim at NASA’s Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement (SEWP), a GWAC for computing needs, Doan said she has held meetings and sent letters to new OFPP head Paul Denett urging him to reject NASA’s request to authorize SEWP IV as a GWAC when SEWP III expires in 2007. NASA already has SEWP IV in the advanced planning stages.

Having an agency such as NASA, whose primary mission is space exploration, also acting as a purchasing agent of IT commodities increases industry costs and, in turn, wastes taxpayers’ money, she said.

“Do we want NASA putting computers in a VA hospital, when they need to be sending people to the moon?” she said.

Having NASA buy computers for agencies might have made sense 20 years ago, when IT equipment still was considered a niche, she said. But since then, computers have become more of a commodity.

“At GSA, we can buy PCs faster and at a lesser cost to the taxpayer” than NASA, she said. “That is why we were created, and not why NASA was created.”

OFPP officials said they could not comment.

SEWP isn’t the only contract on Doan’s hit list. She also is putting pressure on the Treasury Department to cancel its 10-year, $1 billion, standalone Treasury Communications Enterprise telecommunications contract, and sign onto GSA’s massive Networx telecommunications GWAC.

Networx will be awarded in March, and Treasury should offer its current telecommunications provider a bridge contract until May when Networx is up and running, she said. This makes sense, she added, because whatever firm wins the TCE deal will undoubtedly be on the Networx vehicle.

“GSA is going to be able to provide these services ... cheaper and better” than TCE, she said.

Doan admitted, though, that while she is meeting with Treasury officials, bringing that agency into the Networx fold will not be easy.

“This is a very hard struggle, because people want what they want,” she said.

Daisy chain

Consolidating GWACs and increasing opportunities for businesses to get on all GSA schedules should build efficiencies into government procurement and enhance competition, she said. This should result in lower costs for vendors to get on a contract, which could lower prices for agencies.

“If we reduce the time for [getting on] the schedules and eliminate some of the bureaucracy, we’re expecting the contracting community to reduce the costs of goods and services you provide,” she said.

But while industry applauds any effort to reduce the time and cost of doing business with the government, it is unclear just how quickly, if at all, they’ll lower prices.

“To the extent that GSA can streamline the process, that’ll reduce the problem,” said PSC’s Chvotkin.

But it will be “competition that will bring down prices, and this will take time to manifest. The less bureaucracy means more companies. And more companies means greater competition, which will have an effect on prices,” he added.

Meanwhile, for GSA’s internal challenges, Doan said she is moving fast to pare down the agency’s budget to improve its finances.

She estimated that she has cut fewer than 10 programs worth about $120 million that are underperforming, including high-profile programs such as GSA Preferred and its electronic customer relationship management program.

Cutting the eCRM program was particularly painful, she said, because GSA had already spent upwards of $40 million and has received little in return. Doan also axed GSA Preferred, which would give customer agencies a better view of how they spend their money on IT projects, because it was “wildly over budget, behind schedule and wasn’t interoperable.”

Setting the budget straight should be easier, now that Congress has officially approved legislation merging the Federal Supply and Federal Technology services into the Federal Acquisition Service, she said. Congress also approved consolidating the General Supply and IT funds into a single Acquisition Fund.

Doan said she will sign an order officially creating FAS as soon as Bush signs the bill into law, which had not happened at press time.

She is currently mulling changes to the division’s structure proposed earlier this month by FAS commissioner Jim Williams, and said she would provide details when her order is issued.

Williams said he would not reveal his suggestions until after Doan made them public.

He did say, though, that he does not expect an immediate difference in how GSA does business now that the reorganization is official. Changes will be felt over time, he said.

“This is not something that’s going to be a big bang,” he said. “This is something that’s going to be a phased approach, not something we can do overnight.”

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