GSA's Lee preaches and teaches outsourcing

GSA's Lee preaches and teaches outsourcing

BY RICHARD W. WALKER | GCN STAFF

When General Services Administration outsourcing specialist Jeannie Lee goes on the road to talk to government managers about outsourcing information technology, she often has to don her educator's hat.

'One time I went out to an Air Force base to give a briefing on seat management and was asked about outsourcing janitorial and cafeteria services,' said Lee, director of the Federal Technology Service's Center for IT Outsourcing. 'I said, 'That's not seat.' And they said, 'But we want one neck to squeeze for all of it. Isn't that outsourcing?' '

Such responses might be exasperating, but Lee takes it in stride. Much of her job requires explaining to agencies what IT outsourcing is and how to use it under different contracts, she said.


Jeannie Lee challenges IT managers' fears about losing control of their systems with outsourcing; she says those fears are unfounded.
These days, more and more agencies are taking a closer look at outsourcing. Agency contract managers go to the Center for IT Outsourcing to learn about their outsourcing options. Why? The Office of Management and Budget has directed agencies in fiscal 2002 to compete at least 5 percent of jobs identified as potentially commercial on their Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act lists.

Then there's the critical shortage of IT computer specialists in government. In many cases, agencies have no choice but to outsource IT.

'What I'm finding is that a lot of people are in the exploration phase,' Lee said.

Lee's center is a component of FTS' newly organized Innovative Business Solutions Group. When FTS launched the center in September, it subsumed GSA's Seat Management Program Office and now its scope extends beyond desktop PC outsourcing.

Seat is just one outsourcing option, Lee said. 'With IT outsourcing I can now use any contract vehicle that makes sense to do performance-based services,' she said. 'We can mix and match in terms of the services.' But seat management is what agencies want to know about most. 'Most of my time is spent on seat, just talking to people and explaining the concept,' Lee said. She also gets calls from contractors asking how they can get on board.

Not hot

GSA formed the Seat Management Program in 1997. About that same time, NASA began pursuing a PC outsourcing effort, the Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA program. Both the space agency and GSA negotiated deals with multiple vendors to provide seat services to agencies governmentwide.

But, for the most part, seat management has failed to catch fire among agencies. GSA has contracts for nine task orders, including its own, and others for the Office of Inspector General at the Housing and Urban Development Department, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Federal Highway Administration and Treasury Department.

Lee said one misconception agencies have about outsourcing is that the staff will lose control of its IT.

'When I talk to people, I try to find out what it is that they specifically fear,' Lee said. 'When you say you fear losing control, what do you mean by control? Control means different things to different people. I try to drill down and find out what it is they want to control.'

Under seat, when agencies buy managed desktop services from industry they relinquish ownership and maintenance of most IT assets. But most agencies also retain an in-house staff to oversee the programs'and that's how they can keep control, Lee said.

Despite the inhibitions of many agency managers, Lee said, she's starting to see new interest in seat.

In addition to educating agencies, Lee guides them through the tricky process of developing and implementing outsourcing programs.

In January, for example, the Office of the Secretary of Defense awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin Corp. for desktop PC services. Lee worked with Scott Ducar, technical director of network operations in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence.

She played a part in the entire process, from developing the task order to making the award, and her contribution didn't end there. She is still the program manager and contracting officer's representative because the Defense Department is using GSA for the award, Lee said.

Partners in progress

For Ducar, the collaboration was invaluable.

'We had never outsourced before, so the first thing we did was look around for a partner to help us,' he said. 'We turned to GSA. They helped shepherd us through the writing of a statement of objectives, through putting the request for proposals on the street, through the selection process and are now helping manage the contract.'

Defense also did a total cost of ownership (TCO) study and an inventory of its IT assets, a critical prelude to outsourcing, Lee said.

'There are just too many unknowns out there,' Lee said, advocating that any agency about to begin an outsourcing effort conduct a TCO study.

In fact, she said, it's wise for agencies to do TCO studies even if they don't plan to outsource, as a way to get control of their assets, Lee said.

'We joke and say, 'If the software police came around, how many of us would get in trouble? How many of us own the licenses?' ' she said.

When Lee started at GSA 12 years ago at the Federal Systems Integration and Management Center (FEDSIM), she brought an extensive background in internal business analysis.

Leaving college with a degree in finance, Lee analyzed internal operations and procedures for several organizations in the Washington area before taking a job with Computer Sciences Corp.
At CSC, she worked in internal management and support and eventually began collaborating with CSC's federal customers on projects.

'A government person would call me and they'd say, 'Jump!' and I'd have to respond, 'How high?' ' she said. 'After a bit of that, I decided I wanted to be on that side of the fence.'

As she continues to settle into the job and look ahead, Lee said she perceives the concepts of managed services and outsourcing as dynamic.

'I think if seat is not the answer, then there will be another generation of it,' she said. 'I think we'll see a variation on what seat services provide.'

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