GSA's defenders line up

A day after a congressman proposed abolishing the General Services Administration, a senior defense acquisition official said the largest government department values GSA’s support.

Shay Assad, director of defense pricing at the Defense Department, said DOD values its partnership with its “brothers and sisters at GSA.” What’s more, he said their partnership needs to be expanded and made more effective. DOD has looked to GSA for contracting help and will continue to do so, he said.

Assad spoke April 27 at the Coalition for Government Procurement’s annual Spring Conference. The day before, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) said GSA needs to prove its worth to stay open.

“I know it can sound harsh; it can sound controversial. I think it’s more important for them to come back and justify, what does this agency do, what are its core competencies, are there other agencies that can pick up some of those duties? More importantly: Can private industry do it better?” Denham said.

Denham introduced a bill April 25 requiring a Government Accountability Office audit of GSA each year.

Experts and conference attendees were stunned by Denham's comment. Later at the conference, Carolyn Alston, general counsel at Deltek and Washington Management Group, said there was a collective gasp in the room when he said it. But Denham was talking primarily about the Public Buildings Service, the arm of GSA involved in the recent scandal over a lavish conference. Denham admitted, under audience questioning, that he doesn't know much about the other side of GSA' s operation, the Federal Acquisition Service.

Afterward, experts agreed that the freshman Republican didn’t know enough about GSA to make the statement.

“I think that Rep. Denham was caught by surprise when it was pointed out that GSA consists of more than the Public Buildings Service,” said Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners.

Allen wasn’t sure whether the congressman would reevaluate his statement about abolishing GSA. “It should, however, make it clear that such a pronouncement was made on less than complete information about the agency,” he said.

More importantly, experts agree, Denham is not going to do away with GSA, even if he truly does want to. There would be too much opposition in Congress and the White House.

“You’re not going to do away with GSA, but you may change GSA,” Michel Del Colle, senior manager of federal contract policy and compliance at Accenture, said to the congressman during the question-and-answer period.

Several readers commented on the original story about abolishing GSA.

SP Mayor said Denham may have realized he had spoken too broadly. "I heard the Congressman speak. He did say 'abolish GSA' but I did not take quite so literally. In fact, I sensed he backed off the statement a bit during the course of his session," Mayor wrote in a comment. "I think he wants GSA to justify its value proposition in [building management] -- by itself not an unreasonable request. What is worrisome is that his initial call to abolish GSA was so blatantly uninformed about GSA in its totality."

A reader using the pen name SoutheastUS commented that real estate management is an area where the private sector might be a good idea. But “GSA should justify that they can do procurement and its other duties better than any other agency, but procurement for government consumption should be a government function.” Procurement is an inherently governmental function, which means only a federal employee can do.

RayW commented that officials should “work on changing GSA and the rules, not tossing out the bathwater and maybe baby too.”

Amber Corrin and Camille Tuutti contributed to this report.

About the Author

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


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