Many feds are still in the dark about seat management

Christopher J. Dorobek

By Christopher J. Dorobek

When Shakespeare wrote about 'a rose by any other name,' he clearly wasn't waxing poetic about seat management, as a recent survey of GCN readers shows.

The results of a telephone survey of 100 readers [GCN, July 10, Page 28] present a bleak picture of the PC outsourcing initiative. Despite all the attention that's been given to seat management, the survey found there are still procurement people in government who are not clear about what it is. And many of those who do know are not convinced of its benefits.

The survey disclosed that 81 percent of the procurement officers and purchasing managers interviewed said they did not use seat management. That number is not surprising, given that there are only a handful of seat management initiatives under way, and many of them are pilots. Clearly, agencies are dipping their toes into the seat management pool before jumping in.

But the answers to other survey questions are ominous.

Asked whether their agency would adopt seat management in the next two years, 69 percent said it was not likely. About 23 percent said it was somewhat likely and only a token 8 percent said they expected to see it happen.

The most startling result is that many people feel they don't know enough about seat management'26 percent said they don't even know what it is.

Perhaps I'm taking this too personally. As somebody who has written a fair share of articles about seat management'32 in the last two years alone'I was shocked that GCN's own readers didn't know more about it.

Too soon to tell

But to be fair, the survey respondents have seen few real-world examples of seat management. And, aside from the effort at the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, even the pilots are not yet at a point where they can demonstrate results.

It seems that agencies don't know if seat management is a rose by any other name.

Although details about PC outsourcing can be complex, the concept itself is relatively simple. Nevertheless, the survey results illustrate that it does take time for any new concept to take hold.

That could be a valuable lesson for other initiatives as well. The findings are a sign of a steep education curve for broader ideas such as using application service providers, which is equivalent to outsourcing an agency's entire information technology shop.

Another interesting result of the survey concerned sole-source task orders. The question on sole-sourcing, which has received a lot of attention from Senate committees, is whether agencies are conducting adequate competition before awarding contracts or using such procurement vehicles to avoid competition.

The survey found that 26 percent thought that sole-sourcing was a problem. But the comments participants made indicated that not everyone fully understands what sole-sourcing is.

One respondent was blunt about it: 'I don't know what it is.'

Some other comments were mystifying: 'It's an option being explored by the federal government, but it's not yet widespread,' another respondent said.

But there also were several troubling comments that indicated people knew government buyers were avoiding competition and that they would continue to do it. 'Everybody goes that way because of time constraints, and it is a rush-rush situation,' one respondent said.

'In some instances, it's a good thing,' another said.

The attitude is difficult to understand. I have yet to hear a good reason for avoiding competition, especially in this period of rapidly changing technology.

Furthermore, in light of the streamlined buying process, why wouldn't an agency put something out for competition?

Even if an agency were to keep its existing contract, opening it to competition would not likely take much time or effort. It would take a bit longer, but the potential benefits'not the least of which is continued procurement reform'outweigh the costs.

Fortunately, most of the comments suggest that feds do take sole-sourcing's drawbacks seriously. 'It doesn't allow the customer to see all that's being offered,' one said.

Feds should keep in mind that a bargain by any other name '

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