Customers creep away from GSA

During Martha Johnson's nomination hearing, senators discuss GSA's departed customers

During Martha Johnson’s nomination hearing to be administrator of the General Services Administration, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) struck at the core of a major issue for the procurement agency: departed customers.

Lieberman: Give me your response to what seems to be a kind of creeping away by various federal agencies from using GSA, particularly for contracting, which undercuts the basic purpose of the agency.

Johnson: I have a rather broad view of that. As a result of the Clinger-Cohen Act and some of the changes that were made in the 1990s, GSA moved from being the mandated source for much of the supplies and services and is now more of a one-among-many, non-mandated company store, if you will, as it was historically.

The first rounds of response to those new authorities and possibilities on the part of other agencies meant that they wanted to establish their own contracting capacities. And I think that was a wave of response to long years of GSA being basically one of the few organizations that did that.

I believe in that process, the acquisition workforce has been dispersed much more broadly around government, which is a very critical issue. There is a lot of duplication, and there is a lot of overlapping and probably inefficiencies.

I believe the thinking behind this is appropriate. I don’t believe having a sort of monolithic source for contracts is the exact right answer. But I am concerned about moving into a change in this because of the dispersion of the acquisition workforce.

I also believe this is a bit of a market gesture, if you will, around the performance of GSA. We would like to earn our customers through performance rather than through mandate. And that would be my attitude moving forward and where I would put my energy. So performance is certainly the proper response.

Lieberman: That’s a good attitude to go forward with, and I think you’re right that it is a market response. I agree with you. There is something to be gained from the competition, but sometimes it can be a loss, too.

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

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Reader comments

Mon, Mar 1, 2010

I believe that everyone is missing the boat! One of GSA largest problems is that it does not support its Vendors properly- especially the small to mid size vendors. The fact that GSA has not figured out that it must support Vendors better- by for instance by assisting them in getting on military/Government installations with installation passes etc. is unforgivable. If an approved GSA Contract holder does not have free access to get in these installations how are they to support the end customer- weather it be clarifying questions to their products or doing simple installation, warranty, repair or upgrade work. GSA simply brushes this off with- that is not our job. Vendors are no longer interested in even getting a GSA contract schedule because a lot of the contracting offices openly say that it is not necessary of even wanted. This means that other vendors that are not locked into quality control or approved price lists have an advantage. They also don’t have to lose a great amount of time with tending to GSA contract requirements or reporting. So why should a vendor even want to get on a GSA schedule?

Fri, Aug 28, 2009 DC

Another reason that GSA has lost customers is due to the lack of knowledge and skill set required of contracting officers. Some of the GSA contracting offices have staff including the Directors of those offices that do not know the FAR as well as they should. More times than not at GSA, if a procurement is to follow the regulations of the FAR, the COTR has to be knowledgeable enough to know both the role of the contracting officer as well as their own, because they cannot get assistance or count on the knowledge from the contracting office due to their lack of understanding the FAR. Customers have noticed and taken their business to more efficient procurement offices.

Wed, Aug 12, 2009 Rich Wilkinson Washington

It's really sad. Neither Senator Lieberman nor Ms. Johnson have even a basic understanding of what's going on in that industry. GSA built a business around multiple award contracts and "delivery orders on demand." Customers loved their service because they could dodge their own agencies' (much more rigorous) procurement rules, delivery orders were "protest proof," and they could direct the award to their favorite contractor. The FY08 Defense Authorization Bill made delivery orders subject to protest. An interagency agreement between GSA and most other agencies (notably DOD) bound GSA to follow their customer agency rules in placing procurements. The '08 Authorization Bill also mandated competition across all participants in Multiple Award Contract (MAC) programs, erasing the ability to direct awards. To add insult to injury, the very first protest of a delivery order resulted in a precedent-setting decision (DELEX) that extended the FAR "rule of two" (mandating small business set-asides) to delivery orders and MAC programs. The primary value GSA offered to most Government Program Managers, CONTROL OVER THE PROCESS, is GONE. Congress did it and they don't even know what they did!

Thu, Jul 30, 2009 Richard Olcott

This is a political response that does nothing but clarify the obvious. The real reason why customers go with their own contracting activities is because when you order service on GSA, contracting makes you go through the same rigamarole. You might as well go with something you can tailor easily if you have to do that

Mon, Jun 15, 2009 Jaime Gracia Washington, DC

To gain the trust of your customers, and keep their loyalty, a business must provide value-added services that warrant the partnership. GSA has faltered in this mission of over the last few years, but I think strides are being made to improve service delivery and earn the trust of their customers. One of the most pressing contracting activity needs that federal agencies have, among others, is awarding Recovery Act dollars in an efficient, yet timely manner. Therefore, GSA will see an uptick in business to complete these awards as federal customers will probably use GSA Schedule contract holders for a large percentage of Recovery Act awards. GSA has taken steps to prepare for this new work, through increased hiring, increased infrastructure support, and a renewed focus on customer service. I am hopeful that Martha Johnson will provide the leadership that GSA needs to continue providing contracting performance that federal agencies need to complete their acquisition missions.

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