Lawmakers prod GSA on license deals

Stephen Perry says GSA is trying to find a solution that benefits government and vendors.

Olivier Douliery

Getting consensus from agencies on enterprise license deals that would serve users governmentwide has slowed the pace of the General Services Administration effort to create such deals.

When the administration and GSA officials detailed their plans for the SmartBuy effort this summer, they said their goal was to have software deals in place by Sept. 30. So far, GSA has set no deals'though sources said a handful are close to fruition.

'There are no unique challenges to buying software as compared to other governmentwide projects,' GSA administrator Stephen Perry said. 'We are asking the agencies to work collaboratively, and that is new for agencies, just as it was for e-government. Different agencies are at different stages, and we have to help them figure out how it all fits together.'

But the delay is agitating lawmakers.

'The subcommittee is not aware of any meaningful progress being made to achieve SmartBuy's cost savings goals for fiscal 2003, nor plans for additional near-term cost savings in early 2004,' said Rep. Adam Putnam, chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census, in a letter last month to Perry.

The Florida Republican asked Perry for a progress report and to identify impediments to the program. Putnam expects GSA to respond within the week, said Bob Dix, Putnam's subcommittee staff director.

Some government officials said GSA is under the gun now because the timeline it originally set was unrealistic.

Part of the slowdown is due to GSA's effort to satisfy specific agency requirements, the officials said. The Defense Department, for instance, took more than four years to put its first enterprise software agreement in place.

Setting up a basic set of terms that all agencies will accept is a challenge, officials said, because agencies already have deals with vendors that vary greatly.

The Office of Management and Budget first introduced the SmartBuy idea in February as part of the president's fiscal 2004 budget request. It named GSA the lead agency this summer. OMB and GSA officials estimate governmentwide deals could save the government as much as $100 million annually.

As GSA wrestles with getting buy-in from agencies, vendors also are voicing concerns.

'A number of our members said they don't see what is in it for them,' said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement of Washington. 'Vendors see a centralized acquisition program as a good thing, but it does not address all parts of the acquisition process and may not decrease their overall cost of doing business.'

Robert Cresanti, vice president of public policy for the Business Software Alliance, said there are too many unanswered questions.

Cresanti said BSA has asked OMB to:
  • Clarify the rules of enterprise buying

  • Develop a process for dealing with potential disruptions of renewals or new buys

  • Assist vendors in finding a way to lower their costs through efforts such as a governmentwide centralized billing or shipping.

Even keel

Perry said GSA is trying to find an approach that benefits the government and vendors. 'Making smart purchases takes into account the benefits of both sides of the equation. We are working to find the proper balance.'

But Putnam fears that GSA's delays on setting deals will force agencies to renew licenses under more expensive terms than will be available under the SmartBuy program.

'OMB said there would be savings in fiscal 2003, and we want to see where it is and if there is anything we can do from a congressional standpoint,' Dix said.

Gail Repsher Emery is a staff writer for Washington Technology

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