Can FAS get a handle on GSA's outposts?

Jim Williams

Now that the ribbon has been cut and the doors opened to the General Services Administration's much-anticipated Federal Acquisition Service, the main question is, will it matter?

FAS, which combines the Federal Technology and Federal Supply services and the IT and General Supply funds, will mean a more coordinated approach to acquisitions, GSA officials contend.

'Before, between FTS and FSS, they were very different in many respects and had different ways of running things,' said Jim Williams, FAS commissioner. 'Providing a common set of tools is what FAS is all about.'

But what still is unclear is whether the new organization will be the cure for all that ails GSA. Several observers, while supportive of FAS, say regional issues will remain.

'It has always been the case that the regions go their own way, and that's where the bulk of the problems are,' said Phil Kiviat, partner with Guerra, Kiviat Inc., a consulting firm in Potomac, Md.

Neal Fox, a consultant and former FSS assistant commissioner, agreed: 'The regional issue is not fixable. Regional administrators are political, and the FAS commissioner is not. That will never be completely resolved.'

After legislation approving FAS and creating the Acquisition Services Fund passed Congress and received the president's signature earlier this month, current GSA administrator Lurita Doan said, 'We have the authority to move forward, and our leaders and phenomenal workforce will execute the game plan.'

But that game plan could be hampered by the same problems that have been haunting the agency for years, industry observers said.

FTS, observers noted, has been dramatically losing money and customers, particularly in its IT Solutions division, forcing GSA to shed employees.

By merging the two services, GSA hopes to stem FTS' revenue losses. But because the agency is largely funded by the fees it charges for its services, a decrease in business could have a profound impact on the agency as a whole, observers said.

'The cost and fee structure needs to be analyzed because that's what's killing FAS,' Fox said.

The fee structure aside, the regional structure is GSA's biggest challenge, Fox and others said.

But Williams said he is confident that all GSA employees will work together and that the new organization will succeed. The regional administrators 'have been great to deal with; they share the same commitment I do,' he said.

Williams said that GSA officials will consider how the 11 regions will operate within FAS. And a longer-term project will determine whether any changes need to be made to the number of regions or zones, and associated fees, he said.

Williams said he will consult with Congress as FAS continues its development.

And at this point, Congress is on board. House Government Reform Committee chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.), who wrote the legislation setting the reorganization in motion, said combining the two services and acquisition funds will help streamline not just the agency, but government procurement as well.

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