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Embattled administrator's exit has allowed GSA's acquisition activities to take center stage again.

Employees at the General Services Administration likely heaved sighs of relief in April when the White House asked administrator Lurita A. Doan to step down from her post. Doan's public spat with GSA Inspector General Brian Miller diverted attention from the agency's ongoing procurement initiatives and accentuated a nearly two-year tenure marked by allegations of contracting abuse and Hatch Act violations.

Doan's forced resignation left the agency temporarily in the hands of David Bibb, a career employee who started with GSA in 1971 as an intern and worked his way up to the position of deputy administrator. Bibb immediately set about repairing relations with the IG office. Shortly after stepping in as acting administrator, he set up a meeting with Miller. Bibb also got right to work on the agency's bread-and-butter contracting initiatives.

One of the highest priorities was Alliant, a $50 billion, 10-year integrated information technology solutions contract that federal agencies were supposed to begin using in 2007 to buy an array of IT services. Agency officials awarded 29 companies, including Lockheed Martin Corp., General Dynamics Corp., Booz Allen Hamilton and CACI International Inc., pieces of the massive contract in July 2007.

But the losing bidders filed a protest and a March ruling by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington forced the agency back to the drawing board. GSA employees now are scrambling to reevaluate all 66 bids on Alliant with greater attention to pricing. The goal is to announce a new set of winners by December.

Another top priority is Networx, the largest federal telecommunications acquisition effort in history. The $68.2 billion contract vehicle was designed to help agencies meet evolving service needs, but the transition to Networx from predecessor contract FTS 2001 has been slow.

Business was picking up on the contract in June, however, as agencies worked toward complying with a September deadline for them to recoup transition costs. The Treasury and Homeland Security departments both have placed large orders through Networx, with other agencies expected to follow suit.

GSA employees also are trying to pump new life into the agency's schedules, which are catalogs of pre-negotiated contracts available to outside agencies that might not have the resources or time to broker separate deals.

Historically, much of the agency's business has come from purchases off the schedules, but sales have leveled off in recent years as more agencies develop their own contracts to meet their acquisition needs.

Interest in the schedules is tapering off among the companies that hold contracts as well. Last fall, Canon USA, EMC Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. chose not to renew their schedule contracts because of increased scrutiny of pricing policies.

Meanwhile, GSA has established an advisory panel to address pricing and oversight of the program. The panel is expected to release recommendations later this year, after conducting meetings and gathering public comment.

This is a lot of work to finish as the clock runs down on the Bush administration, and the challenges GSA faces today are likely to linger well into the next presidential administration.

The June announcement that Bibb would step down and be replaced by Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner Jim Williams further complicates the picture. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, announced in late July that he would put a hold on Williams' nomination over allegations that he improperly pressured a contracting officer during the controversial negotiations with Sun Microsystems under Doan in 2006.

Whether it's Williams or someone else, the next GSA administrator will have to focus on improving GSA's largest contracting vehicles and convincing other federal agencies to make use of them. In addition, he or she will have to show leadership in areas such as telework and cooperative purchasing. One thing is clear: the job won't be easy.

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