As times changed, so did FSS

Donna Bennett, commissioner of the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Service

Donna Bennett, commissioner of the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Service, earlier this month announced she would retire from government after 35 years, the last 21 at GSA. Bennett has the distinction of being the last FSS commissioner'a position she has held for the past five years. After 56 years, GSA is merging FSS with the Federal Technology Service to create a new Federal Acquisition Service, which should be in place before Sept. 30.

GCN news editor Jason Miller interviewed Bennett about the impact of FSS, her decision to retire and how federal acquisition is changing.

GCN: What is the legacy of FSS?

BENNETT: This is an organization that has constantly challenged itself to save taxpayers' money. We have consistently reorganized. The organization has been around for 56 years, and I've been here for 21 of them. We have constantly changed the way we do business.

For instance, in the supply program, [we] used to have 26 depots supported by buying and inventory management units. Through the years, we have shrunk to two and have specialized buying units that support both of them. We shifted our reliance to the private sector to supply customers' needs and take advantage of what was going on in the marketplace. As part of that change, we buy largely commercial items instead of government spec items.

GSA Advantage is another example of taking advantage of Internet technology'where we jumped on the front end of that wave. Advantage has continually adapted to what customers want from it. Originally we thought it would be a delivery system, but it has evolved to include ordering and now is a system where you can do research or post requests for quotes in E-Buy.

The legacy of FSS is that, as the market changed, we changed with it.

GCN: Why is there a need to consolidate FSS with FTS, especially since FSS does let agencies buy services?

BENNETT: We've been quite public about the reasons. Customers demand fully integrated solutions and want ones that are best for them. The consolidation allows us to focus more sharply on customers' needs and helping them optimize GSA's offerings to meet their missions.

GCN: Was it an evolutionary change?

BENNETT: That is a good statement. If you look at the 1990s, the focus was on IT as IT, but the focus now is on greater solutions where IT is one component. It is an evolutionary process. Schedules came to FSS in the mid-1990s. The IT schedule was $2 billion a year and now last year $18 billion. Looking at those trends, [it] makes sense for us to consolidate.

GCN: How much did the consolidation of FSS and FTS play into your decision to retire from government?

BENNETT: Now is the perfect time for me. I've had 11 years in [the] commissioner's office, six as deputy and five as the commissioner. I had a lot of latitude to define the organization's structure and shape the mission. I believe the new commissioner should have that same latitude.

GCN: What will FAS look like in 5 years?

BENNETT: If I looked into my crystal ball, I would guess that GSA is the leader of strategic sourcing initiatives. These can occur governmentwide or can occur at the agency level or at lower levels in the agencies. If we are successful, we will be known as the agency to come to for strategic sourcing. We will have enough data and understanding of customers to be who they turn to.

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