GSA: Proving That Procurement Works
GSA: Proving that Procurement Reform Works
Asure sign that you’re doing something right in Washington is when people start sniping and taking potshots at your success. Criticism, not imitation, is often Wash-ington’s sincerest form of flattery. By this standard, alone, it should be clear that the procurement programs of the General Services Administration (GSA) are delivering great services and values to federal buyers. Fortunately, there is ample additional evidence to show that procurement reform at GSA continues to work and provide countless benefits to agencies and taxpayers.
One-third of the $20 billion in schedule (FSS) sales made in 2002 went directly to small business schedule contract holders.
When the General Services Administration was created in 1949, no one could have contemplated the significant role information technology would play in the effective operation of government. Similarly, few could have seen that both the government and commercial marketplaces would become service-dominated markets in just a few decades. GSA has had to adapt to these changes several times in order for the government to continue to operate. To its credit, the agency has met these challenges over the years, reinventing it-self in the 1990s in the aftermath of the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) and Clinger-Cohen Act. GSA continues to make inward changes even as it continues to provide state-of-the-art contracts and services to federal customers.
GSA’s Federal Supply Service (FSS) operates the most successful commercial item acquisition program going in the Multiple Award Schedules program.
FACT: Contractors go through a tough negotiation process and only get a contract if the discounts offered are determined to be favorable relative to those given to commercial or other government customers. From there, federal customers often demand spot discounts that result in even greater savings. The daily competition that takes place among schedule contractors, and the increasing sophistication of government buyers who often demand steep concessions, ensure that the government gets great values and high levels of customer service.
FACT: The schedules program also benefits thousands of commercial firms. One-third of the $20 billion in schedule sales made in 2002 went directly to small business schedule contract holders. Can anyone show a better percentage for a program open to all types of businesses? On top of that one-third, though, are millions of dollars in additional benefits that go to small firms that provide service and sales support through contracts held by large businesses.
FACT: The schedules program provides real money to real small firms—the great majority of which, by the way, do not have to hire lobbyists in order to be successful.
FACT: Competition takes place daily among schedule contract holders who know that their competitors can offer spot discounts at any time. Competition takes place at all parts of the acquisition cycle, much of it before a request for quotes is issued. Members of the Coalition for Government Procurement report that competition has never been more intense. More than 40 Coalition members who compete in a variety of industries have sales in excess of $20 million annually, showing that no one company gets it all.
FACT: FSS provides great service and selection, excellent customer training and support, numerous electronic commerce programs, and more—all for a 1 percent Industrial Funding Fee. The fee is among the lowest in government and is far less than what other government agencies charge for access to their procurement programs.
The FSS success story, though, is just one part of the total GSA story.
FACT: The Federal Technology Service (FTS) also provides outstanding customer service and a wide selection of solutions through the contracts it maintains. The technology and telecommunications solutions available through FTS are often the best solutions available from any government entity. FTS must compete with a host of private-and public-sector competitors, meaning that the services they provide have to be competitively priced and offer real customer value. The best proof of success in any competitive environment is continued program growth and customer loyalty. This year, FTS will exceed $7 billion in sales for the first time ever, with most of that business coming from repeat customers. This is clear and convincing evidence that FTS delivers value and plays an important role in the delivery of critical services.
At the start of the 1990s, GSA as an agency was under strong consideration for dissolution. The image of the agency was that of a bloated bureaucracy that impeded, rather than helped, government operation through the efficient provision of goods and services. Today the agency is held up as an example of a federal organization that has thoroughly reinvented itself and one that plays an important role in helping federal agencies get what they need, when they need it, at great values. The leadership of FSS and FTS managers over the past 10 years has been responsible for much of this transformation.
It is worth noting that much of the criticism GSA has received comes from those who benefited from the protests and delay-ridden systems of the past. Some private-practice attorneys practically made a living filing and defending protests before the General Services Board of Contract Appeals (GSBCA) and other venues. With the rise of programs like the schedules and FTS’ own vehicles, protests have decreased substantially. It should be no surprise, therefore, that GSA is coming in for some of its harshest criticism from an attorney whose previous firm was very active in that area and from the head of a GSBCA that is casting about to find its role in today’s procurement environment.
The great majority of career procurement professionals supports the changes made at GSA and elsewhere over the past decade. They know that competition takes place daily and that there is a real benefit to government in getting today’s technology today. These are leaders who understand that reform does not mean an end to all governing rules and guidelines, but an acknowledgement that rules don’t have to be written in such a way as to reduce competition, increase lead times, and require that government contractors large and small retain an army of protest attorneys as a normal cost of doing government business.
No, procurement reform clearly works, as the facts above demonstrate. GSA and others who led the procurement “revolution” can and should stand up proudly for the successes they have created. They took risks, did what was right, and created a better system that benefits all. Those who criticize GSA and other reformers would do well to spend some time in the history books of procurements past and hold their remarks until they have done so. Only when you know where we’ve been can you fathom how far we’ve come.
Editor’s Note: Larry Allen is the Executive Vice President of the Coalition for Government Procurement, a non-profit association representing more than 330 companies selling commercial solutions to the federal government. He has more than 15 years experience in the government affairs community, in both legislative and private-sector capacities.
He has worked with officials in and out of government to help the schedules program grow from a $5-billion-a-year procurement program to one in excess of $20 billion.
Mr. Allen has extensive experience with Govern-ment-Wide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs), Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts, and other government acquisition methods. He is particularly familiar with GSA Federal Technology Service acquisition vehicles.