GSA prepares for a changing of the guard
- By Jason Miller
- Oct 07, 2005
Perry's long tenure as administrator wasn't always a smooth journey
'We are in a stable period with a good foundation, and it is a good time to make the transition.'
Stephen Perry's decision to leave as administrator of the General Services Administration comes at a time when the agency is in flux.
But even with a major piece of its reorganization still in administrative and congressional limbo, Perry, who announced earlier this month that he intends to return to the private sector Oct. 31, said the pieces are in place to improve GSA's short- and long-term prospects.
'You never get to where you can say everything is done, but at some point you feel like you've made some of the improvements you started out to,' Perry said. 'I feel like things are operating in a good way'in a steady-state way. I feel comfortable making the transition.'
Over the last month, Perry, who had been rumored since summer to be leaving, signed the order merging the Federal Technology and Federal Supply services into the Federal Acquisition Service, and named the national business and administrative program leaders.
'He has taken it to a place where there is a plan to re-emerge and succeed,' said Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement, an industry association in Washington. 'There is a whole new team of people, and now the question is just execution.'Transition phase
Perry also named a new commissioner of the Public Buildings Service and oversaw the re-forming of the team to work on the Alliant governmentwide acquisition contract for IT services.
'We are in a stable period with a good foundation, and it is a good time to make the transition,' he said.
David Bibb, GSA deputy administrator, will take over for Perry if President Bush does not name a new administrator by the end of the month.
Perry's announcement also leaves the government without leaders in two of its most important acquisition positions.
David Safavian resigned last month as administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy just before his arrest on charges of obstructing a federal investigation and making false statements under oath [GCN, Sept. 26, Page 1]. Safavian was indicted last week on five charges related to his dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff in 2002, while Safavian was GSA's chief of staff.
Additionally, Perry's decision will further delay the agency's reorganization, which some observers say has already taken too long, because the Senate before moving now will wait for a new administrator on the GSA Modernization Act legislation.
Reaction to Perry's decision has been mixed.
House Government Reform Committee chairman Tom Davis (Va.), author of the GSA bill, said Perry's strong leadership and wise counsel will be missed.
Many inside and outside GSA said his tenure, the third-longest ever at GSA'he started May 31, 2001'was punctuated with one challenge after another.
From systemic illegal FTS contracting practices to poor-performing vendor and procurement data systems to a slower-than-expected rollout of two high-profile GWACS, Perry's tenure has not been smooth sailing.
'Stephen Perry was handed more difficult issues during his tenure than most GSA administrators have seen, and to his credit, he tried to take them on,' said Neal Fox, a former FSS assistant commissioner who retired this summer. 'It remains to be seen whether he resolved the internal contracting abuse issues and whether the reorganization of FSS and FTS will actually benefit the customer.'
Fox, who now provides consulting services for government vendors, said Perry brought a good business sense to GSA, something that had been lacking in previous leaders.Improving GSA
Perry concentrated on improving GSA through the President's Management Agenda. He also worked with the Defense Department on the Get It Right campaign to improve both GSA's contracting practices and the perception of them.
On his watch, GSA also implemented technology to automate the submission of proposals and change orders for FSS, and diminished the overlap between FTS and FSS marketing and contracting activities.
'We have aggressively attempted to pull back the covers and really understand what is going on at all areas of GSA and look for those things that are happening well and look for ways to sustain that,' Perry said. 'We also looked for areas for improvement. By discovering that and improving it, we don't get many kudos for exposing it.'
Perry said he is proud of how FTS, FSS and the Public Building Service improved the way they work together to meet agency needs. He also is pleased with how GSA responded to mission vision and goals.
'We developed performance management processes where all goals were documented with action plans, and we measured them on a regular basis,' Perry said.
'This is the process used to become [a] high-performing organization. We did have goals before, but not necessarily customer-focused ones,' he said. 'We did have detailed action plans but did not explain who should do what and when. And we did have good measures, but they were not true indicators of whether we [were] meeting our mission.'
But not everyone liked Perry's focus. One current GSA official, requesting anonymity, said Perry micromanaged senior executives and was too focused on building consensus before making decisions, which prevented GSA from appearing decisive.
An industry official, who also requested anonymity, said Perry likely stayed too long.
'If he endured these challenges in the private sector, he would have been gone a lot earlier,' the official said. 'GSA has been unsettled for a long time, with an erosion of market share, a downturn in revenues and slowed contract activities. But obviously, Bush had other things to deal with.'Perry's record
As evidence of GSA's problems coming back to haunt it, the official pointed to FSS' expected growth rate of less than 5 percent on IT purchases, after increasing by more than 15 percent in each of the previous two years.
Many in industry also criticized Perry for focusing too much internally and not paying enough attention to making sure GSA's customers were happy.
But Perry defended his methods.
'We may not have hit our target in the middle every time, but that did not happen because [we] were too focused internally,' he said. 'Many agencies had instances of failure to fully comply with acquisition regulations, and many agencies got concerned about that and decided to hunker down and do [their] own things in their own agency.'
The Coalition for Government Procurement's Allen defended Perry's record.
'He had some ups and downs, but that was because he attempted to do more than his predecessors,' Allen said.