Post-Doan GSA to focus on customers

Lurita Doan, former administrator of the General Services Administration, set out to restore GSA’s reputation for customer service. But some procurement experts say she pulled the agency off course in her nearly two years as chief and failed to achieve her goals.

Doan steered GSA away from its primary mission of buying for its customer agencies, said Bob Woods, former commissioner of GSA’s Federal Technology Service and now president of Topside Consulting. Wood said GSA is a service agency with a mandate to be the central procurement agency for the federal government, and customers should be the agency’s primary concern.

“Your greatest allies are clients that believe you’re bringing them value,” Woods said.

Doan had lost important allies in the federal information technology community by the time President Bush asked her to resign last week, observers say.

Some government and IT industry leaders said they had concerns about Doan’s unguarded management style. “She broke a lot of china,” said Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president and counsel of the Professional Services Council.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had called for Doan’s resignation in June 2007. Last week, he said the president’s request for her resignation was the right decision.

“GSA should now be able to return to its nonpartisan tradition and its work as our government’s premier contracting agency,” Waxman said.

Members of the federal IT community have similar advice for David Bibb, now acting GSA administrator.
Bibb must focus on customer service, said Larry Allen, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, which represents companies that sell products and services to the federal government.
Bibb has been acting administrator before and knows how to regain customer confidence, Allen said. “He’ll take GSA where it needs to go next.” 

Bibb led GSA after Stephen Perry resigned in October 2005 until Doan became administrator in May 2006.

Woods said Doan improved GSA in some ways, but she took on issues that weren’t GSA’s primary concern. “She gets points on energy, but her aim wasn’t that good,” he said.

Doan’s poor relationship with the agency’s inspector general, Brian Miller, was well known. In December 2006, Doan said the IG’s office was doing the “old Washington two-step” to avoid any budget cuts. The IG countered by saying Doan’s cuts were punitive.

Another instance of misdirected energy, Doan’s critics said, centered on NASA’s governmentwide acquisition contract. In August 2006, Doan said publicly that she wanted GSA to take over NASA’s successful Solutions for Enterprisewide Procurements (SEWP) contract before she had talked to officials at NASA or the Office of Management and Budget.

Doan lost that fight. In December 2006, OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy sided with NASA and authorized the agency to award a fourth SEWP contract.

Woods said Doan worked with industry to reduce the time required to get a schedule contract award to 30 days, but GSA never applied the 30-day standard to its largest contract, Schedule 70, for IT products and services.

Near the end, Doan knew that she had few allies. “Lots of people in town are not too happy with a more assertive GSA, nor are they happy with a much more ornery GSA administrator,” Doan said in a speech April 23 at the GSA Expo in California.

Don Erickson, director of government relations at the Security Industry Association, said that under Doan, GSA started several valuable programs, including one that would enable state and local governments to buy from GSA schedules. Another would make it easier for agencies to buy products and services from different schedules contracts for a complete security solution. GSA needs to carry those programs to completion, he said.

Erickson said no one expects GSA or its administrator to be as bold as as Doan proved to be. Doan thought she was going to change things and didn’t care what other people thought, he said.

“It’s a blessing and a curse to be an entrepreneur running an agency,” because the federal bureaucracy often is stronger than the appointee, he added. 

About the Author

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

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