Editorial: Assisting acquisitions

The idea behind the General Services Administration’s Assisted Acquisition Services Office makes sense. Essentially, the office provides the procurement version of a shared service. It’s easy to imagine it becoming one of the busiest parts of the agency. After all, the number of people working in procurement and acquisition has plummeted in the past decade. In contrast, government spending on contracts has risen.

Almost everybody says agencies don’t have the procurement and acquisition staff to get everything done, let alone get it all done well. Furthermore, agencies face a more challenging procurement environment these days as they increasingly move beyond straightforward technology buys to focus on more complex solutions.

GSA does have a seasoned, knowledgeable procurement workforce that can design procurements to help programs succeed.

The problem for GSA’s assisted services is that theory has not translated to reality.

There are many reasons for that. There was a combination of previous mismanagement paired with a series of problems that culminated in the Get It Right campaign. Unfortunately, in hindsight, Get It Right got it wrong. It resulted in a GSA procurement operation that was more focused on itself rather than on the needs and concerns of its customers.

In addition, the merger of GSA’s two acquisition arms took far too long, confusing GSA’s customers and further distracting GSA’s procurement and acquisition personnel. All of that resulted in plummeting business for assisted services.

We are not naive. We understand this business is troubled, and we understand that there are legitimate reasons why. But it is time to move beyond past troubles. The success of GSA’s assisted services is important to good government. Both agencies and contractors need this business to be successful.

Here are three recommended steps:

  1. GSA needs to make an all-out marketing effort for its assisted services. Start by changing the name. In this time of tight budgets, agencies can’t afford assistance. They need an organization that can help them get their work done. We would recommend the name Governmentwide Procurement.

  2. As part of GSA’s marketing effort, it needs to offer agencies steep discounts on management fees — temporarily — to bring back customers. And market that by saying that GSA is so convinced that the work is worth 4 percent, we’re willing to offer these discounts to show customers what we can do for them.

  3. Agencies need to move beyond their in-house bias and fixation on GSA’s management fee. That fee is tiny compared with the cost of failed projects.

We believe that having a core of highly trained procurement and acquisition experts is important for enabling programs to succeed and for good government.

Christopher J. Dorobek

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