It's Just Money

It would be interesting to discover the cultural expectations that led the employees of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight to chose title and perceived power over real money ("Off the Payband Wagon," Nov. 1, 2005). One possibility is that psychologist Frederick Herzberg was correct on the basics when he talked about satisfier and dissatisfier factors-that high pay does not satisfy after a while-that people with even a merely modest income begin to yearn for titles and control over the choice of office plants.

Of course, the point of all pay systems is to get people to move toward desired outcomes. The actual mechanics are not so critical as long as they operate fairly and the movement is obtained without overspending.

Also, there is no long-term perfect system, and a shift from bands to grades after 10 years in bands is OK, not proof of concept failure.

William Wade

Contracts 101

"Identity Crisis" (Oct. 1, 2005) correctly describes the General Services Administration's mission of supplying the federal government with equipment and services. In a nutshell, GSA negotiates contracts for everything from office supplies and hardware equipment to mobile trailers to bomb-sniffing dogs. The idea is that the rest of the government can then piggyback by using these established contracts to quickly fulfill their commercial needs.

As a consultant who assists companies in preparing their GSA proposals, I can attest to the agency's diligence in verifying all financial history and discounting practices. Its contracting officers systematically grill wannabe contractors in negotiating prices that at a minimum equal the prices offered to their best corporate clients.

I am often dismayed to learn of other agencies' attempts at contracting and their frustration in obtaining what they need to successfully accomplish their missions. Last week, I read that a prominent senator asked (quite critically) why FEMA did not have existing contracts in place for basic items before Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.

On the contrary, GSA's Schedule Program does just that. With more than 12,000 approved contractors participating, why would any government office undertake the task of writing their own contracts from scratch? GSA even allows further negotiations and discounting on its already established terms and low prices. Any agency can easily customize based on its individual need, or solicit added competition within the GSA-approved list of contractors.

Your article cites instances when the Homeland Security and Treasury departments established their own unique contracts for specific acquisitions. I can only imagine the time and manpower spent on this task. With all due respect, Homeland Security might want to refocus its attention from contract administration to its core mission of protecting the borders of the United States.

Prior to a consulting career, I spent 15 years with GSA's Federal Supply Service. You clearly highlight the current growing pains within the agency, but more painful to taxpayers is the seeming lack of awareness throughout government that GSA even exists.

Richard Powell
Springfield, Va.
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