Congress endorses GSA's assisted services

2 more drop from schedules

Two information technology companies announced last week they will not renew their Federal Supply Service schedule contracts with the General Services Administration. That decision by Canon and EMC follows a similar move by Sun Microsystems in October.

“GSA demanded unreasonable prices,” said Canon spokesman Mike DeMeo. Canon submitted three proposals to GSA, all of which were rejected, he said.

Canon’s GSA Schedule 70 contract expired Oct. 31, and EMC’s contract expired June 30. Both companies say they can sell to the government via other avenues. “EMC has numerous other contracts and programs it has established directly with government agencies,” a company spokesman said.

The companies’ decision to drop their GSA schedule contracts and sell to the government via other means coincides with a general decline in schedule sales that has persisted for several years.

In fiscal 2006, 28 percent of the government’s IT budget went through GSA schedule contracts, down from 37 percent in 2003, according to the market research firm Input.

— Matthew Weigelt

Lawmakers want the Defense Department to use the General Services Administration’s assisted acquisition services so DOD experts are free to work on defense-specific procurements.

That congressional endorsement in a conference report on DOD’s fiscal 2008 spending bill was welcome news at GSA, which faces shrinking revenues from its assisted acquisition services and fresh criticism from DOD’s inspector general.

The reports highlight divergent views among oversight officials: Congress likes GSA’s assisted services, while DOD’s IG questions their value. The lawmakers’ endorsement came two weeks after DOD’s IG told employees to stop wasting money on GSA’s assisted services.

Experts and former GSA officials say the endorsement is important for the agency. “While many of GSA’s wounds are self-inflicted, they need Congress to reaffirm their unique status as the government’s buying agent,” said Bob Woods, former commissioner of GSA’s Federal Technology Service and now president of Topside Consulting Group.

Lawmakers said GSA can help DOD focus on military acquisitions, which demand a high level of expertise.

“We want to free DOD contractors up to do more inherently defense-related work,” said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), one of the conferees and a member of the Appropriations Committee. “Clearly, there’s a need for [GSA’s] expertise in this area.”

The House and Senate passed the conference report on DOD’s $460.3 billion spending bill Nov. 8.

Lawmakers said DOD’s contracting officers are overworked. After decreasing by 25 percent in the 1990s, the size of the workforce has remained steady despite a sevenfold increase in the department’s procurement spending.

“GSA’s efficient contract services can unburden DOD experts from having to handle some of the nondefense-related work,” Moran said.

Countering that support from lawmakers, DOD’s IG reported in October that the department wasted $607,000 when it turned to GSA’s Office of Assisted Acquisition Services for help in placing 91 orders on an Air Force task-order contract known as Network-Centric Solutions.

The IG said officials should have used DOD’s resources to handle the work and put the money paid to GSA to better use supporting warfighters. “GSA was not a best business practice since options were available within DOD at a lower cost,” the IG’s auditors wrote.

GSA officials say they were offended by the IG’s conclusion. “I don’t think they understood the facts,” said Jim Williams, commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service. “For somebody to make that kind of statement is so dead wrong.”

Williams said he was concerned that the report sends the message that “when you use DOD contracts, you must only use DOD resources.”

Shay Assad, director of procurement and acquisition policy at DOD, said in a statement that GSA is one of the vehicles the department considers when using interagency contracts. When DOD officials turn to GSA for assistance, he said, “we do so with the intention of being efficient and effective at doing so.”

GSA officials say they are pleased that Congress recognizes GSA and DOD’s success in working together, a GSA spokesman said.

The agencies signed an agreement in December 2006 to improve their relationship after having problems working together. The agreement followed months of discussions about how GSA could better serve its biggest customer.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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