GSA's realignment marks next step in consolidation

Plan puts new emphasis on acquisition

The surge of consolidation sweeping through government peaked this past month with the release of the General Services Administration's draft reorganization strategy.

And while industry and agencies still have a lot of questions and concerns about GSA's direction, experts say one thing is clear: The administration is taking the acquisition reforms of the 1990s to the next evolutionary stage.

Amid budget pressures, citizen expectations of 24-hour service and the continued advance of technology, the Office of Management and Budget is changing the way government buys goods and services'and the most prominent effect is on IT.

Consider what got this consolidation wave started: the 25 E-Government initiatives. OMB then pushed through the SmartBuy software enterprise-licensing program, which has six agreements in place including three signed this year.

Added to that are the five Lines-of-Business efforts and a recent administration memo asking agencies to identify three commodities they could buy through large aggregate buys.

Budget backing

And finally, GSA's reorganization, which President Bush outlined in his 2006 budget request to Congress in February and which Rep. Tom Davis followed by introducing legislation to codify the changes.

In 2004, agencies spent more than $19 billion on IT products and services on the Federal Supply Service schedules and governmentwide acquisition contracts, according to Input of Reston, Va., a market research firm. The reorganization will change how agencies spend those billions.

All these initiatives move the government toward centralized processes while eliminating duplicative IT investments.

'The world is changing every day, and the old days are just 10 years ago,' Davis (R-Va.) said. 'As the market changes, the government has got to adapt. While GSA is ahead of most agencies, they have to keep changing too.'

GSA's strategy outlines the makeup of the new Federal Acquisition Service'which combines FSS and the Federal Technology Service'and how it will work. The strategy also details the consolidation of FTS, FSS, the Public Building Service, and the Office of Communication and Citizen Services' CIO duties into four Offices of Business Solutions.

Under the plan, GSA would abolish the FTS and FSS commissioners' posts and have one FAS commissioner overseeing the new organization. The management of FAS also would include business portfolio managers, a controller, an IT director, and regional GSA administrators and FAS executives.

GSA has been working on the draft plan since February; officials expect to release a final strategy in July.

'Much of GSA's reorganization plan comes from administrator [Stephen A.] Perry applying the President's Management Agenda and results-oriented initiatives to the agency's operations,' said David Safavian, Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator. 'By consolidating and reducing redundancies, the plan appears to put a renewed focus on customer service and excellence in acquisition.'

Perry said GSA's reorganization is one piece of the large federal puzzle, but not necessarily the most important one.

'There is a lot happening in the government to leverage across agency boundaries,' he said. 'The federal acquisition community is calling for FTS and FSS' reorganization. We can provide a role as a catalyst for identifying and implementing acquisition practices.'

But by any standards, GSA's reorganization is significant.

A value combo

'Rep. Davis has been interested in who does what at GSA for years,' said David McClure, director of research for the Gartner Government Group of Stamford, Conn. 'If consolidation, both at GSA and across government, is done in such a way where service deliveries are combined and the organizations become efficient, they will show value.'

McClure, who headed the Government Accountability Office's IT management practice for four years, said GSA and other consolidation efforts are a result of improved use of enterprise architectures and financial pressures.

One federal procurement executive, who requested anonymity, said OMB is too quick to consolidate, and the cookie-cutter approach might not benefit agencies.

'There is value at some levels, but I don't think anyone is doing the full analysis, and this is more of [a] knee-jerk reaction,' said the executive. 'What are GSA or the other initiatives trying to accomplish? That is what they have to answer.'

But Fred Thompson, vice president for management and technology at the Council for Excellence in Government of Washington, said the push for consolidation must come from OMB.

'When I was at Treasury, we tried to consolidate internally, and it was a hard sale,' Thompson said. 'I'm not sure if there would be enough pressure for an agency-by-agency approach to work. But by OMB placing the budget pressure on agencies, it is happening.'

While GSA is the latest example, more consolidation is coming'the wave is far from cresting. From new Lines-of-Business efforts for IT security and information sharing to internal agency projects, OMB is encouraging agencies to decrease spending on non-mission-critical systems.

'This is about the efficiency of how government should operate and how it uses resources in a proper way,' said Bob Suda, assistant commissioner for IT Solutions in FTS. 'All these initiatives are about saving money in the end.'

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