GSA's Stanton faces busy fall

Telecom, small business contracts, e-commerce platform are top of mind for the head of GSA's Office of Information Technology Category.

GSA Headquarters (Photo by Rena Schild/Shutterstock)
 

The General Services Administration’s $50 billion next-generation telecommunications contract, its effort to create an Amazon-like e-commerce platform and a reconfiguration of its small business contractor efforts are the priorities for one of the agency’s top lieutenants in the coming months.

Laura Stanton, acting assistant commissioner for GSA’s Office of the Information Technology Category, told FCW in a July 15 interview that those three initiatives are top of mind as the end of the year approaches.

October marks another important transition deadline for the agency’s $50 billion, next-generation Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) telecommunications contract.

Early in August, GSA plans to launch the first phase of its e-commerce platform. The agency is also retrenching some of its most popular small business contracting vehicles.

Within the last week, the agency issued a new 8(a) STARS solicitation that doubles its ceiling to $50 billion, as well as withdrawing and reconsidering its Alliant 2 Small Business contract.

“The EIS transition has been at the top of my priorities list” for years, Stanton said. GSA is closely watching agencies’ progress in moving over to the next-gen telecommunications contract, she said. Another transition deadline looms in October, as the agency stops taking new agency modification requirements for Networx, WITS and the Local Service Agreements.

GSA, said Stanton, has a “strong communications” plan with agencies as those EIS transition deadlines approach. Agencies must be switched over completely to EIS by May 2023.

“We’ve been clear with agencies from the administrator to the working level with a cadence of letters to make sure they’re aware of all the milestones,” she said. “We’re notifying agencies who have made progress with positive feedback and notifying agencies when we see delays.”

Stanton is also aware of the stakes in agencies lagging behind. “We took the lesson to heart after Networx,” she said.

The transition to the Networx contract from the FTS2001 contract, completed in 2013, was 33 months overdue and cost hundreds of millions in lost savings, according to a Government Accountability Office study.

In the last year, top GSA officials have briefed the President’s Management Council, sent dozens of letters to agency deputy secretaries, and briefed officials at smaller agencies about the importance of upcoming EIS transition deadlines. “We’ve been clear with agencies about the transition,” she said.

Stanton and GSA also are moving ahead -- despite the obstacles thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic -- with plans for the e-commerce commercial marketplace trial.

In late June, GSA tapped three e-commerce providers for its Commercial e-Marketplace "proof of concept" program, the first step to letting government buyers use familiar commercial platforms to conduct low-dollar acquisitions.

The contracts came after Stanton said in early April that GSA had sidelined the project temporarily as it dealt with the crush of other activity generated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In late June, however, the agency announced that Amazon Business, Fisher Scientific and Overstock.com will each provide a GSA-approved online marketplace where agencies employees can buy commercial products priced below the micro-purchase threshold of $10,000 using government-issued purchase cards.

The awards, said GSA, will allow those purchases for up to three years under the proof-of-concept. The agency anticipated the initial service to be available within 30 days.

Although Stanton didn’t provide an exact start date, she said the agency will make that timeline, with the phase 1 proof-of-concept of the platforms beginning sometime in early August.

Despite the crush of COVID-19 activity that produced the initial e-commerce delay, GSA, she said, “hasn’t really missed a beat” on the program.

GSA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Justice and Labor will participate in phase 1, she said. 

GSA also has been focusing on how to get more small businesses onto its government wide acquisition contracts. June and July saw a flurry of activity around some of the agency’s core small business GWACS. GSA cancelled the Alliant 2 SB contract after it was bogged in protests. Only days before it also bumped up the ceiling of its 8(a) Streamlined Technology Application Resource for Services (STARS) II contract by $7 billion, to $22 billion. It issued its solicitation for the $50 billion 8(a) STARS III vehicle a few days later.

“The moves are tied together,” said Stanton. The IT category is one of the largest at GSA, she said, with over $26 billion in spend in fiscal 2019. One third of that went to buys from small businesses.

“We stepped back and asked ‘how can we facilitate small business growth through GWACs and Best in Class contracts,” said Stanton.

After ending the Alliant 2 SB effort, GSA is currently gathering its thoughts on goals for the contract’s successor, according to Stanton. A big part of that, as with its solicitation for 8(a) STARS, is contractor and industry input.

GSA plans a series of industry days in the coming months to get that input, she said. A timeline for those events has not yet been determined, but “we want to do this as quickly as we can to build the acquisition, but we also want to get it right,” she said.

“Striking that balance between speed and getting it right is always the tension,” she added.

Note: This article was updated on July 17 to correct the fiscal 2019 IT category spend amount.

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