GSA finalizes merger of contracting organizations

The General Services Administration said goodbye to its Federal Technology Service and Federal Supply Service Thursday as agency chief Lurita Doan signed an order completing their consolidation into a single organization.

Jim Williams, commissioner of the new Federal Acquisition Service, said Friday that it is time to put FTS and FSS "in the archives."

"We need to say proper goodbyes and honor those pasts but move to the future," Williams said. "Frankly, I feel a burden here. I have the ghosts of all the people who ever worked at GSA in Federal Supply Service and Federal Technology Service. Maybe [they're] skeptical. Maybe the customers are. We have to prove ourselves every day."

The new FAS organization consists of four business portfolio offices reporting to Williams: General Supplies and Services; Travel, Motor Vehicle and Card Services; Integrated Technology Services; and the newly established Assisted Acquisition Services. Six support offices also will report directly to Williams: Controller, Chief Information Officer, Customer Accounts and Research, Acquisition Management, Administration and the newly established Strategic Business Planning and Process Improvement office.

The reorganization will leave unchanged a regional structure consisting of 11 offices spread across the nation to handle contracting and building management. Earlier, in an attempt to exercise greater headquarters authority over the regions, GSA was going to establish six nationwide zones with area administrators reporting to central headquarters.

Critics said the zone proposal lacked clarity. But it remains an open question how the newly formed FAS will exert influence over the regions. Within a month, GSA will finalize the organizational design of the regional offices.

They will operate in an "informal matrix-like way" with FAS, Williams said.

He said he does not anticipate any problems from the fact that the regional administrators are political appointees while FAS is led by career civil servants.

GSA spokesman Jon Anderson said the regional offices "operationally work with FAS, but they do not work for FAS." Making the regional offices accountable to FAS "is the tricky part," Anderson said.

"I set the standards for how they do their business," Williams said. "Their day-to-day supervision comes from the 11 regional administrators."

Matching accountability with the proper authority is one of the issues GSA is trying to address with the reorganization, Anderson said. There are distinct FAS functions within the regions, but those workers report to their respective regional administrators, Anderson said.

Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president of the Professional Services Council in Arlington, Va., said the structure established under the reorganization can work if there is strong centralized leadership and if regional leadership is willing to cooperate.

"I think this reorganization is designed to [bring together] the key functions and to minimize duplication and strengthen the hands of both the regional office and the regional administrators," Chvotkin said.

Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Washington-based Coalition for Government Procurement, said the organization looks good on paper, but the infrastructure must have an element of built-in fluidity in case implementation falls short.

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