Boosting Business

GSA pitches efficiency and customer service to compete with agencies' procurement offerings.

Since assuming her role as head of the General Services Administration earlier this year, Martha Johnson has fully embraced the agency's information technology initiatives.

GSA's revamped Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies is playing a key role in the Obama administration's open government initiative, helping federal agencies improve their public-facing websites and build social media capabilities.

The agency also has taken charge of the government's migration to cloud-based mobile computing and is acting as a central source of information about software and infrastructure as a service capabilities. But as it gins up these programs, GSA also must continue to compete with individual agencies' procurement vehicles for business.

Analysis by Reston, Va.-based research firm INPUT shows a decline in spending annually from fiscal 2006 to fiscal 2009 on GSA's Schedule 70, on which technology products and services are sold. Industry observers point to agencies' lack of trust in GSA to manage the acquisition processes critical to daily operations, a desire to retain individual control over contracts, and the momentum agencies have gained by running their own procurement shops for years as key factors in slow sales.

The Government Accountability Office in June reported that agencies use their own enterprisewide contracts to retain control over the procurement process and to avoid paying fees associated with other agencies' contracts. This causes duplication of products and services, however, and lost opportunities to save money in the procurement process, the audit found.

Industry analysts say to boost business, GSA has to convince agencies that its contracts provide the best value and its procurement processes are more efficient and responsive than agencies' own vehicles. Johnson has acknowledged that GSA has work to do to bring back customers, which she says it can accomplish by being more responsive to their needs and learning to leverage technology and collaborative tools to communicate and solve problems. "We could win more business, to put it baldly, if we step up our performance," she said at a March technology conference and security expo in Washington. "If GSA ups its game, I am confident that GSA's business will grow."

The agency anticipates growth in its new $10 billion commercial satellite communications program, Future Comsatcom Services Acquisitions, that provides services to civilian and defense agencies. And it has exceeded $1 billion in task orders on its cloud-ready Alliant program, a $50 billion governmentwide contract that aims to be the largest and most comprehensive vehicle for procuring IT services to date. It also is upgrading customer-facing tools such as GSA Advantage with improved product descriptions, images and price comparison tools, and is rolling out training programs to help customers use Web tools and find answers in real time.

Another issue GSA faces is the transition to its massive Networx contract, which, valued at $68 billion over 10 years, is the largest government telecommunications contract in history. Agencies are expected to move to Networx by June 2011, when FTS 2001, the previous contract, expires. GSA says the transition is more than halfway complete, but federal officials, lawmakers and others blame delays on the complexity of the contract and the broad range of services offered.

Johnson also is pushing government to eliminate its environmental impact, a step she calls the "moon shot." GSA's sustainability agenda includes projects around data center consolidation, smart building technology and virtual workplaces.

As one of many suppliers of goods and services to the government, GSA must continue to make the case for its efficiency, responsiveness and value if it wants to win agencies' trust and their business.

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