The General Services Administration expects its information technology portfolio to grow as it launches initiatives to improve pricing and customers’ experience, according to the agency’s new Federal Acquisition Service chief.
“We’re really revamping all of our systems to add value to the way we do business and our customers,” Steve Kempf, who on Tuesday was named permanent FAS commissioner, said in a recent interview with Nextgov.
Just over a year after its launch, Alliant, GSA’s $50 billion governmentwide IT contract, exceeded $1 billion in task order awards this month. Alliant replaces the ANSWER and Millennia programs, which expired in 2009, and aims to be the largest and most comprehensive vehicle for procuring IT services in the federal government. The companion $15 billion Alliant Small Business contract recently surpassed $400 million in sales.
Industry analysts have said one challenge GSA faces is declining interest in Schedule 70, on which technology equipment and services are sold. Federal agencies often are reluctant to give up control of acquisitions so important to their daily operations and historically have held on to their own procurement operations, said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting. There’s some question as to whether they can entrust the “keys to the kingdom” to GSA, he added.
“In the end, it’s really on GSA’s shoulders to make the business case, to make the value proposition, to demonstrate that they can operate more efficiently, more effectively, nimbly, responsively than agencies themselves,” said Suss.
Kempf said despite flat interest in Schedule 70, he still considers GSA the dominant player in the IT market, with nearly $20 billion in sales across its technology portfolio. Alliant has produced a lot of interest and competition, he added.
“There’s some forecast that IT spending will be down,” said Kempf. “It’s an opportunity for GSA to be successful, to look at things like federal strategic sourcing in helping [agencies] meet budgetary constraints.”
Other areas for growth are in GSA’s new commercial satellite communications program, a $10 billion contract to provide satellite services to civilian and defense agencies, and a blanket purchase agreement for cell phone services that meet governmentwide requirements. Kempf said GSA also is working on a number of initiatives to make it easier for customers to use its purchasing vehicles. For example, customer-facing tools such as GSA Advantage soon will look and feel more commercial with improved product descriptions, images and price comparison tools. The agency also is looking to roll out training programs to help customers use Web tools and find answers in real time.
GSA’s massive Networx program has been under scrutiny in recent months as lawmakers and industry representatives question agencies’ slow transition to the new $68 billion telecommunications contract. Delays are costing the government millions each month, critics said. According to Suss, the transition’s momentum has picked up and is getting more attention and support from stakeholders.
“They’re over the hump in terms of getting agencies’ attention, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to get there,” he said. “In one way, it’s a huge deal because it’s a huge contract, and it’s at the heart of the government’s information technology. On the other hand, it’s the third iteration of the contract and well-established from a technical point of view. Agencies have a clear idea of where they need to go.”
Agencies must transition to Networx by June 2011, when predecessor FTS 2001 expires. GSA estimates the process is nearly 60 percent complete, and Kempf said he expects to be close to meeting the transition deadline.