Glad To Have A Competitive GSA, But Let the Best Vehicles Win

photo_Steve-Charles_65x85by Steve Charles, Co-founder and Executive Vice President

I’m glad to note the General Services Administration (GSA) has gotten past its rough patch and has a new leadership team in place, including a long-awaited confirmed administrator, Dan Tangherlini. While some in industry continue to think GSA will never recover, I’m seeing signs of new life and would recommend sales organizations take a fresh look at what is going on.

Tom Sharpe, the new commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service, is laying out his vision of GSA as the government’s centralized buyer. At the AFFIRM meeting last week, he said he would like to get the White House to work with him on reducing the number of procurement shops across government for the purpose of lowering acquisition administration costs by reducing redundancy increasing GSA’s “market share” of the government’s annual spend from about 12 percent to 17 percent next year. Administrator Tangherlini has said he thinks GSA’s share should be 90 percent in ten years. Sharpe and Administrator Tangherlini, along with Chief Acquisition Officer Anne Rung, are reportedly making the rounds to cabinet under secretaries trying to get commitments from them to use GSA contracts rather than setting up their own vehicles.

It’s good to see the government’s contract vehicle owners strive to become more competitive. What better way to help ensure government buyers get the best deals on a daily basis? I am a little skeptical, though, that GSA could garner 90 percent of the government spend given the fact it neither owns requirements nor controls money appropriated by Congress. Seems to me such a change would have to come from Congress. Perhaps this is in the works (see the July 15th strategic sourcing hearing convened by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs).

In the meantime, program managers with budget authority and requirements will send their purchase requests to contracting shops where they believe they get the best results with the least friction. Mr. Sharpe says that the only reason for GSA to market its contracts and buying services to other agencies is if it can save them time and money.

We all agree!

I’ve listened carefully to Mr. Sharpe’s recent speeches and I think he realizes that GSA will fundamentally need to change its existing contracting processes in order to provide easy-to-use contract vehicles with current, competitive pricing across all product and service categories as a prerequisite to capturing more market share. In my opinion, GSA’s first order of business should be to do whatever it takes to keep its schedule contracts–and by extension its BPAs–current to within a few days of commercial price list effective dates. GSA’s moonshot would be real-time contract catalog updates.

So how realistic is this idea that GSA can significantly increase its market share of the $520 billion obligated annually? It all depends on what it actually does. Customers vote with their feet. GSA’s public pronouncements of its aggressive growth goals through contracting excellence, summed up in the mantra, “Done Once, Done Well” must be predicated with the foundational changes needed to actually deliver clean contractual plumbing. Pedestrian as it may sound, government catalogs with current commercial products, at current commercial prices under current commercial terms of use consistent with federal law across all product categories, would change everything.

With respect to Sharpe’s idea of closing procurement shops, I don’t know any program and contracting people who prefer having another agency obligate their funds. Indeed, GSA’s assisted acquisition service, while having its share of successful projects, by no means needs to strengthen its doors against the onslaught of demand. Simply give agencies what they: contract vehicles with current products that allow them to buy easily from the suppliers they trust without having to write justifications, determinations, and findings.

GSA has shown that for commonly used services provided by a handful of companies, like domestic delivery and wireless plans, GSA can add value government-wide with a one-size-fits-all vehicle. But most industries are made up of many providers, each continuously striving to become different in some unique way. And on the buy-side, all departments will continue to think they are unique. Could it be that GSA’s ultimate value would be in providing the widest possible range of always-current schedule contracts for each commercial product category across all industries as the foundation upon which departments could then build BPAs most strategically valuable to their own enterprise?

About Steve Charles
Passionate about technology and helping our clients help the government with the latest. I try to educate people on all the government's checks and balances that really seem likes hoops and hurdles so buyers and sellers can get to a meeting of the minds much more quickly without violating any rules.

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