Emily Murphy | After the storm

Interview with Emily Murphy, GSA's chief chief acquisition officer

Emily Murphy, GSA

Zaid Hamid

To say these are trying times at the General Services Administration would be an understatement. With a new administrator named just last month, Congress finally signing off on the reorganization plan and an expected round of layoffs pending, the agency has its share of tribulations. But for chief acquisition officer Emily Murphy, it is business as usual as she implements an ambitious program to better train and educate GSA's acquisition workforce'the lifeblood of the organization.

Drawing from her experiences at the Small Business Administration and on Capitol Hill, Murphy routinely works 12-hour days to fulfill her mission. Still, despite her busy schedule, she finds time for her guilty pleasure, watching the animated TV show 'The Simpsons.' 'This is my confession: I TiVo 'The Simpsons' every day,' Murphy told GCN. 'Rob Thormeyer

GCN: What are your priorities for this year?

Murphy: It's sort of a follow-on to what I worked on last year: the three C's'capacity, compliance and competition. From a capacity role, last year we worked a lot on how are we going to organize, how are we going to make sure we've got the people in place we need to get their work done. We put in place the Defense Acquisition University-Federal Acquisition Institute partnership. This year we're really taking it to the next level. We've started studying our internal program to see how we can improve that.

GCN: How will the partnership work?

Murphy: We entered into a partnership agreement with them, and we've aligned our training so that we can allow economies of scale and also a lot more opportunities for training to be available to our workforce'not just GSA's workforce, but the civilian workforce.

In fact, in one of my big initiatives, we made 88 new courses available in March. They're core acquisition training; they're going to be available around the country; they're five to ten 10-day courses with up to 30 people per course. It's going to be an unprecedented amount of training available to the civilian acquisition workforce.

We're also working on aligning our Center for Acquisition Excellence in the Federal Supply Service [which will be merged with the Federal Technology Service to create the Federal Acquisition Service] with FAI. And within my office, we're also running something called the Applied Learning Center that's looking at our core competencies and skill gaps so that we make sure the training we're developing is relevant and helps us achieve our mission of acquisition excellence.

GCN: Describe the February proposal to revise GSA's acquisition regulations. Why was it necessary to make that move now?

Murphy: This year, one of the things I was hearing from everyone is that we've got all these acquisition letters out there, and we've given a lot of guidance through acquisition letters throughout the years. To be truly meaningful to our workforce, we need to incorporate [the Federal Acquisition Regulation] and make it one transparent document. It also makes it easier for agencies doing business with us to understand our rules, and for vendors doing business with us.

So that's why we went out on Feb. 15 with an [advanced notice of proposed rulemaking] on our GSA acquisition regulations. We're going to take those acquisition letters and turn them into GSA acquisition regulation cases.

GCN: How will this help your agency customers?

Murphy: One of the other things I'm doing, to that end, is the transaction-management playbook. The Public Buildings Service already has one in place that governs the relationship between PBS and other agencies, focusing on how a transaction's going to be managed from the very first interaction to the completion of the project.

We're looking at putting one in place that's GSA-wide, that deals with interagency contracting: What is GSA's responsibility? What [is] our customers' responsibility? What's negotiable, what process can you expect? So that the rules of engagement are very clear.

GCN: What about the Competition 'C'?

Murphy: Looking at the involvement of small businesses in government contracting has always been something I'm very passionate about. Currently, about 80 percent of our schedule holders are small businesses, and they get about a third of the dollars off schedules each year. It's something GSA has been very committed to.

Additionally, we've been very committed to making sure there's additional transparency in acquisition, with our E-Buy tool, which has helped us comply with [Section 803 of the Defense Authorization Act], which is DOD's regulation on how you make awards on multiple-award schedules.

So we've put in place E-Buy, our online request-for-quotation tool, [and it has resulted in] a lot more transparency in the process of how we're making offers. So last year we went out with an acquisition letter on how to use the schedule to help agencies meet their socioeconomic goals. We've made it clear to our associates that we considered E-Buy a best practice, so we would continue to foster that competition.

And this year, we're looking even further at how ... we address 803 applicability, and we're looking at expanding it within civilian agencies and for all of our orders. We're looking at expanding the use of E-Buy even further.

It ties nicely to what we're doing with the Federal Procurement Data System, which was revamped in 2003. ... The reporting tool we had in place was, to put it kindly, a little clunky. We're switching over the reporting tool so that it's much faster, much more intuitive, and it's much more interactive.

We've already launched the first two of the new reports, and they're incorporating the purchase card data so we're going to have more transparency on reporting where awards were made. I think all of that is going to help continue to foster competition.

GCN: Is the pending reorganization having an impact on your shop?

Murphy: It is. One of the key policies of the reorganization was that there would be a clear source of policy and guidance. It is making sure we have a clear path for our acquisition workforce, that we've got the right reporting chain in place so that we protect our [employees] and give them the tools they need.

It's really been about leveraging the tools that are currently within FSS and FTS, such as the Center for Acquisition Excellence, with the acquisition workforce tools that we had already in the CAO's office. I think it's going to be a very positive turn of events for not just our workforce but also for the acquisition workforce of our customer agencies that are dealing with us.

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