GSA looks to expand business, open schedules to state & local governments

During a keynote speech yesterday at FOSE, General Services Administration head Martha Johnson spoke about the GSA’s ambition to transform the way the way they do business. She said there was ample opportunity to jump-start the transformation, including an expansion of GSA schedules to state and local governments.

“I took this job for one reason,” the newly confirmed administrator said, “to transform GSA into the big engine that will.”

By fostering workforce policies that focus on “what people do, not where they are,” Ms. Johnson said technology and industry partnerships would transform the way government does business. But she also acknowledged the need for GSA to step up its performance through customer intimacy, innovation and operational excellence.

GSA currently is responsible for about 13 percent of the federal spend, but Ms. Johnson asked, “why not 20 percent?”

To help jump-start significant growth for GSA, Ms. Johnson said there were multiple ways to increase GSA’s customer base, while streamlining government spending and saving taxpayer dollars. One of these changes could come from Congressional mandate, she suggested.

“What if Congress pushes through aggressive cooperative purchasing and decides GSA schedules should be open to state and local business?”

She said struggling state and local municipalities could us GSA’s economies of scale to purchase products and solutions at enormous discounts, relieving some of their budgetary pains. By opening GSA schedules, small business would also benefit, she said, by increasing engagement and “providing them with vastly wider markets.”

Currently, state and local government can only tap into GSA schedules under specific circumstances for particular products. Through GSA Schedule 84 and 70, for example, IT services and products meant to bolster law enforcement and emergency management can be purchased by states. But that leaves a vast amount of government spending that cannot be bought through GSA’s pool of products and services.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs has a bill (S.2868) that would allow states and the Red Cross to purchase more goods or services, related to disaster preparedness or response. The bill passed the committee in mid-December, but it has yet to be considered by the full Senate.

Another idea, promoted by Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) was floated in April of 2009 that would allow state and local governments to use Recovery Act funds to make purchases via GSA’s multiple award schedules. H.R. 2182 passed the House last May, but it has not made legislative headway in the Senate.

One local government procurement chief thinks the proliferation of technology in government business has increased the need for expanded use of GSA schedules.

“It’s difficult to have the sophistication to buy some of the hi-tech products,” Hal Good, Director of Purchasing at Frederick County Government in Maryland, said in an interview. He indicated that GSA’s experience in buying complex technologies would help many local governments see economies of scale, while addressing possible political downsides.

“The reason states are afraid to join GSA schedules is that it would hurt local business,” Mr. Good said. “And before the hi-tech era, that was particularly true, but now with so much government business using hi-tech, it’s not as much of a concern.”

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