F Street shuffle

The General Services Administration's draft plan to combine its two acquisition services has been met with skepticism internally and from outsiders such as Congress and industry groups.

Under the draft proposal, the Federal Technology Service (FTS) and Federal Supply Service (FSS) would be merged and divided into five functional areas. Three would focus on particular lines of business, and the other two would handle customer service and contract oversight. The leader of the new Federal Acquisition Service would report to GSA Administrator Stephen Perry. Public comments are due by mid-June.

"Many of the key details remain to be worked out," said Donna Bennett, FSS' commissioner, in an agency memo. She also announced her retirement from government, effective July 3. GSA officials say they will complete the reorganization plan by the end of July.

The plan, under development by a task force since February, roughly corresponds to legislation sponsored by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), which the House approved last month. "Our perspective is that they're very similar," a GSA spokeswoman said.

But Davis criticized the draft proposal last week. It "does not seem to foster the tighter management control envisioned" by the House Government Reform Committee, which Davis chairs, he said. Any move to combine the two existing acquisition services' supply funds would require congressional approval.

The roles of five proposed officials overseeing field activities are unclear in the new organization because "they are currently at the bottom of the structural chart," Davis added. GSA officials are still discussing where the new positions would fit into the organizational structure, said Mary Alice Johnson, a GSA spokeswoman.

The uncertainty surrounding the chain of command among those five executives and the GSA regions also raised doubts among industry groups.

Consolidating the regions and strengthening central control is "an important step in assuring consistency and accountability across the agency," said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement. "Obviously, the people who drafted this plan thought otherwise."

Because GSA's contracting abuses occurred primarily at the regional level, agencies contemplating using GSA's offerings need to be "confident that if they use GSA, they're not going to get into hot water," said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting. That can be done by shifting more responsibility to GSA's headquarters, but "this document doesn't seem to indicate that that's the plan," he added.

The proposal also reduces efforts to ensure proper contract oversight, Allen said. The draft plan does not include a position analogous to FSS' assistant commissioner. Instead, an acquisition management organization would become one of the five functional areas that reports to the commissioner. As a result, the leader of contract oversight "is going to be giving [policy] to people who are his or her peers, making it more problematic that the acquisition management strategies will be listened and adhered to," Allen said.

However, the draft won Office of Management Budget praise. "We're pleased to see that it reflects some of the fundamental tenets of the President's Management Agenda," said David Safavian, administrator of OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Union representatives of GSA workers were less pleased. "People don't know what's going on. They've been very clandestine," said Robert O'Brycki, National Federation of Federal Employees regional vice president of the national capital region chapter.

NFFE officials said they were not assured during a meeting between union representatives and GSA's chief people officer that employees would not lose jobs as a result of the reorganization. Consolidation likely will result in "a reduction in 'shadow staff' performing redundant functions within business lines and regions," according to the draft.

But "that doesn't mean that there's not another place in the organization" for potentially displaced workers, Johnson said.

Interested parties must understand that the plan is still a draft, she said. "We're putting out a draft plan to receive feedback, and we will determine what feedback to incorporate," she said.

Introducing the Federal Acquisition Service

Under the proposed draft proposal to consolidate the Federal Technology Service and Federal Supply Service into a brand-new Federal Acquisition Service (FAS), acquisition functions would be divided into five areas: customer relationship management, acquisition management, integrated technology services, general supplies and services, and travel and property disposal. The head of each of those would report to the FAS commissioner. Those officials, the commissioner, the existing 11 regional administrators and other officials such as the controller would be part of a FAS management team.

The proposed single customer service organization would be more responsive to customer needs, said Mary Alice Johnson, a GSA spokeswoman.

But dividing acquisition business lines into functional areas runs counter to the trend of knocking down walls in the federal government, said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement. One-stop shopping would be difficult under that model because government buyers who want to buy several items, such as copy machines, furniture, office supplies and business consulting services, would need to go to separate contracting officials at different functional areas.

— David Perera

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