The General Services Administration, promising to become a more effective and more accountable buyer of supplies and services for the government, issued a reorganization plan yesterday that would merge two purchasing branches into a Federal Acquisition Service.
The proposal should allow GSA headquarters to better manage the buying of goods and services, ensure that field offices provide "customer service" to agencies, enhance training for contracting officers and reduce duplication, said Stephen A. Perry, the GSA administrator.
The proposed Federal Acquisition Service would consolidate the Federal Technology Service, which specializes in buying products and services related to information technology and telecommunications, and the Federal Supply Service, which provides an array of products and services, such as vehicle purchasing and leasing, travel and transportation and personal property management.
The GSA buys more than $30 billion of goods and services annually from the private sector and resells them to federal agencies. Officials contend that there is no longer a need for two buying systems when industry increasingly offers package deals that blend products and services.
Under the proposal, announced by Perry and Barbara L. Shelton, an acting GSA commissioner, the GSA would provide technology and other services through six geographic zones while keeping its 11 regional offices to manage federal buildings and leases across the country. Acquisition employees working on national programs would report to national offices, and employees delivering local services to agencies would report to regional executives.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, called the plan "a positive step" but questioned whether the GSA's approach "will provide appropriate management control over acquisition activities conducted in the various GSA regions."
Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, which represents companies that sell to the government, said the coalition is "cautiously optimistic about the plan."
One possible concern, he said, involves "how these regional zones will shake out in the new organization." The coalition urged the GSA to "put a structure into place that ensures consistency across regions," he said.
Since taking office, Bush administration officials have talked of revamping some GSA operations, but recent accounts of possible contracting irregularities at the GSA and elsewhere probably served as the catalyst for the reorganization.
Last year, Congress expressed concern that some agencies might be using contracts negotiated by the GSA for purposes outside their scope or intent. Auditors for the GSA inspector general also disclosed inappropriate contracting activities, including sole source contracts, by the agency's Federal Technology Service.
Perry said the GSA does not have a timetable for setting up the new acquisition service, in part because he is awaiting congressional approval. The House has approved a bill sponsored by Davis that gives the GSA a green light to set up an acquisition service. The bill is awaiting action by a Senate committee.
Perry said the GSA intends to take steps internally while waiting for final approval. He said Deidre A. Lee, a former procurement guru at the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget, will join the GSA next week to head an integrated technology group in the new acquisition service.
Gary A. Amelio, executive director of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, will be the guest on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on federalnewsradio.com and WFED radio (1050 AM).
Jonathan Perlin, undersecretary for health at the Veterans Affairs Department, will be the guest on "The IBM Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).
"Secretary Rice's Shake-Up at the State Department" will be the topic of discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).