GSA wants to revamp IT Fund

Who used the fund in fiscal '03

Agency for International Development

Agriculture

Air Force

Army

Army Corps of Engineers

Commerce

Defense

Energy

Environmental Protection Agency

GSA

Health and Human Services

Interior

Judiciary branch

Justice

Labor

NASA

Navy

State

Social Security Administration

Transportation

Treasury


Source: GSA

The line between what could be bought through the fund and what could not has grown fuzzy, GSA's David Drabkin says.

J. Adam Fenster

One option: Merge it with two other accounts to ease use by agencies

Technology is so often an ingredient in government procurements that the General Services Administration wants to set up a multi-agency account that won't limit purchases exclusively to IT'as the popular 40-year-old IT Fund demands.

After repeated abuses of the IT Fund by regional Federal Technology Service offices, GSA officials are considering merging the fund'as well as the Public Buildings Fund'into the General Supply Fund. That would give agencies flexibility to buy technology and nontechnology products and services under the same procurements.

'GSA's authorizations have been divided into three parts, which have been focused on vertical functions at each agency as opposed to a possible single GSA capital investment or working fund,' said David Drabkin, GSA's deputy associate administrator for acquisition policy. Combining the funds 'would keep us from having to split up procurements where we put money for IT in the IT Fund and money for non-IT into the General Fund.'

Congress created the IT Fund, through which 21 agencies spent $8.7 billion in fiscal 2003, under the Brooks Act of 1965. The fund was continued through language in the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996.

Seeking clarity

The fund is made up of unspent but obligated money that agencies sign over to GSA for use later. Agencies must submit a plan that details how they will spend the money from the fund. The Public Buildings Fund works comparably for facility maintenance spending.

FTS then manages the funds and, in the case of the IT Fund, makes buys of IT products and services at the agencies' behest.

But as IT has become a larger part of everyday purchases and programs that have little to do with technology, the line between what could be bought through the fund and what could not has grown fuzzy, Drabkin said. Using the fund also has become more difficult as procurements needed to be split up into multiple buys more often, he said.

GSA decided to look at merging the funds following an inspector general review last year that turned up questionable use of the IT Fund. The agency's inspector general found that Region 10 contracting officers in Bremerton, Wash., over a two-year period spent more than $36 million from the fund to construct a new office building and do renovations on other facilities.

Further investigation uncovered similar problems had also occurred in two other regions, and the IG is auditing other FTS field offices.

'We had a rule on what you could use the IT Fund for and because we had chosen not to split the money up, we were in violation of the rules,' Drabkin said.

Procurement experts reacted positively to GSA's decision to consider merging the funds.

'A lot of restrictions will be relaxed,' said Chip Mather, principal at Ac- quisition Solutions Inc. of Chantilly, Va., and a former Air Force contracting officer. 'If it is just a general fund, it will be hard to be out of the scope of it.'

Larry Allen, executive director for the Coalition for Government Procurement, a Washington trade association, said merging the funds would make it easier for agencies to do business with FTS.

'It will be easier to execute multifaceted projects,' Allen said. 'This is a good managerial move.'
Drabkin said the change would be transparent to agencies, and it might even be easier for them to do business with GSA.

Drabkin said no decision has been made, and GSA likely will have to get approval from the Office of Management and Budget and possibly Congress. He expects to send a proposal to OMB by the end of the year.

'We have had very general discussions with OMB and the House Government Reform Committee, and they have not discouraged us from considering alternatives,' Drabkin said. 'But it does not mean they are committed to a change.'

Drew Crockett, deputy press secretary for Government Reform, said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the committee's chairman, understands the need to consider change.

'Our concern about the IT fund from an acquisition standpoint is that the definition of IT in the Clinger-Cohen Act dates from 1995 and may need to be changed to reflect the reality of today's IT market,' Crockett said. 'The definition dictates when the IT fund can be used and for what purposes.'

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