FSS chief retires as Congress, industry question reorganization plan

A senior General Services Administration official announced her retirement Friday, a day after the agency announced a plan that would eliminate her position.

In a memorandum to GSA employees, Donna Bennett, the commissioner of the Federal Supply Service, said she would leave the agency on July 3 after a 35-year career in the government. "This will be a bittersweet moment for me," Bennett wrote, "especially as I acknowledge I will be the last FSS commissioner."

Bennett was one of the chief architects of a draft plan, released Thursday, to merge FSS with the Federal Technology Service, creating a new organization called the Federal Acquisition Service. The service will be led by a single commissioner, who will oversee a number of business units, an acquisition management organization and customer service unit, all of which will act as the government's primary buyer of goods and services, including information technology, office supplies, motor vehicle maintenance and travel services, to name only a few.

Under Bennett's tenure, FSS has grown into a massive contracting organization that processes more than $40 billion in sales annually through its popular schedules program. Under the terms of the draft reorganization, the schedules will be divided among the new business units, which will be responsible for managing them. A separate organization will establish procurement policy, which presumably will include to how the schedules can be used and modified.

Bennett noted in her retirement announcement that "many of the key details [of the draft plan] remain to be worked out." GSA plans to hear comments from industry later this month, but the agency will also receive input from the author of the legislation that allowed FTS and FSS to merge.

After the draft reorganization plan was released Thursday, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, questioned whether the plan "meets the spirit" of the law he authored.

"GSA's plan does not seem to foster the tighter management control envisioned by the committee to improve acquisition effectiveness and prevent the high profiled abuses and acquisition mismanagement demonstrated by the recent inspector general reports," Davis said, referring to GSA audits that revealed abuse of procurement regulations by FTS regional offices across the country.

Davis has been particularly concerned about modifying GSA's current structure, in which regional administrators exert significant autonomy from headquarters, and he indicated that GSA's plan doesn't go far enough in that regard. His legislation authorized the GSA administrator to appoint up to five "regional executives" for the new acquisition service, "to facilitate close oversight and more management control over acquisition-related activities," Davis said.

"[W]e hoped GSA would have been more supportive of that goal," Davis continued. "It is unclear how the regional executives [under the draft plan] are to fit into this organization as they are currently at the bottom of the structural chart."

Davis said the committee, which oversees GSA, will have comments as the draft plan is finalized. "Rest assured that under the current proposal, this will be a matter of further discussion between the committee and GSA," he said.

An industry group also is questioning the regional reporting structure. "The plan does nothing to change reporting or structure issues that have led to multiple policy and operational approaches," said Larry Allen, the executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, an association that represents contractors. "As such, it is likely that the different policy interpretations and practices that are now a concern will remain," Allen said, adding, "I would have thought that the plan would have hewn a little more closely to GSA's congressional oversight chair's preference."

Allen also said that structuring the new organization as a set of business units was based on the model used for FTS. "Historically, this model resulted in a climate that promoted sales over contract management. This led to inevitable conflict," he said. "[D]ifferent organizations competed against each other for business. By taking this concept onto a wider playing field, the potential for similar trouble remains and actually expands." He also questioned the wisdom of splitting up the schedules program, arguing that doing so "makes it virtually impossible to buy products and services together if they cross business lines."

FSS' Bennett said she had no immediate plans following her retirement. "It is time to play, at least for the summer, and then perhaps to explore new ways to learn and grow," she said.

Bennett joined GSA 21 years ago as the director of governmentwide travel and transportation policy. In addition to Bennett, the FSS deputy commissioner, Lester Gray, is retiring. Amanda Fredriksen, Bennett's chief of staff, and Sharon Fowler, Bennett's assistant, have not announced plans to leave.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.