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Transforming GSA’s Professional Services Offerings

By Tiffany Hixson, FAS Regional Commissioner and Professional Services Category Executive

Updated March 25, 2015 12:30 p.m. PT

 

Tiffany Hixson, FAS Regional Commissioner and Professional Services Category ExecutiveLast year, GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) began a comprehensive initiative to review how to better support federal agencies with their acquisition needs. We analyzed the basics:  how, who, and where agencies buy goods and services; our agency customers’ collective requirements; and, what our customer agencies are asking and expecting of GSA. Initial conclusions made from this work confirmed what many have known:

  • The government acquisition landscape is vast and fragmented with 500 different departments and agencies making annual purchases exceeding $400 billion. Agencies are duplicating efforts, conducting thousands of full-and-open competitions, and establishing hundreds of potentially redundant acquisition vehicles and programs.

  • The needs of agencies have continued to evolve. Requirements have continued their shift from commodities to services, and the complexity of requirements has continued to grow -- the lines between IT and traditional services continue to soften.

  • The acquisition community GSA serves faces an increasingly challenging buying environment requiring contracting and program professionals to have sophisticated and well rounded business skills.

  • Agencies’ needs of GSA have evolved and grown quickly.  

GSA recently announced one significant change FAS will make to address these challenges; it will implement category management - a business model and conceptual framework that will change how we think, conduct, and manage acquisitions that support the federal agencies we serve.  This work is complemented by three other strategic initiatives: (1) improving and expanding the direct services we provide to agencies (contracting, training, telecommunications, fleet management, and property disposal services); (2) developing an acquisition gateway to virtually support our customer agencies; and (3) improving our contract vehicles -- Schedules, GWACs and MACs -- to better meet agencies’ requirements.  By organizing much of our operations around categories of spend and improving our overall service delivery, FAS can truly retool its business architecture to meet the needs of our federal agency customers today and in the coming decade.  

 

We have a lot of work to do to achieve FAS’s end goals.  Moving from strategic objectives to operational results is a tall order.  As is true for other FAS executives, I wear multiple hats and have multiple responsibilities in achieving our objectives. My organization's work to establish the Professional Services Category provides a small and early picture into how FAS is beginning to operationalize our transformation activities. During the past year we focused on understanding the challenges and buying environment for professional services federally, and developed our first strategy and plan to improve FAS’s work in this area.  For now, our plan has four key elements:  

 

1. Improved Contracts.  This past fall FAS awarded its OASIS suite of contracts.  These contracts complement our existing professional services Schedules and provide agencies with easy access to contractors that provide proven high quality and complex professional services.  These contracts are a critical and important part of addressing the complex services needs of federal agencies. Contracting Officers now have the flexibility of using all contract types in a solutions-based contracting environment.  Of note, hybrid contract types can be used to include non-commercial cost reimbursable services. This is the first MAC of its kind that FAS has awarded and fills a void we’ve had in contracts that support the federal community.

 

Our services Schedules remain the “workhorses” of our contract portfolio; however, there are improvements to make to ensure they remain cost effective for both industry and government to manage, and are easier to use when integrated commercial solutions are required. The first step we are taking to improve these Schedules is to consolidate the eight we manage today into one Professional Services Schedule.  While a heavy lift, it’s a necessary one. There are over 4,400 contracts currently managed by our contracting team. When we are through with this work in Fall 2015, approximately 440 contractors will no longer manage up to eight Schedules contracts, they will manage one thus eliminating significant workload associated for both industry and government in negotiating, administering, and auditing these contracts.  For companies that currently hold only one Schedule, post consolidation, they will no longer have to submit stand alone proposals to expand their offerings. Instead they will work with their Contracting Officer to negotiate the award of new offerings through a contract modification -- a huge benefit for both our contractors and the government.  

 

These are just the first steps we have taken to improve our contracts.  Our work continues, and we will remain focused on taking incremental but transformative steps to  ensure our contracts meet the needs of the acquisition community.

 

2. Professional Services Hallway.  A core challenge facing acquisition professionals in purchasing services is understanding how individual submarkets approach pricing and offerings, what contracts already exist to support acquisition of these services, as well as the best practices used to acquire services in these submarkets. To start to address this need, we’ve launched a “beta” site in the Acquisition Gateway to share, and collaboratively develop, these types of resources for the federal community. While early in its development, we are focused on providing pricing tools and information, sample statements of work, best practices, and expert articles in the hallway.  We have prioritized our work in this area based on feedback from contracting and program professionals, as well as senior procurement leaders and experts.  No one wants or supports acquisition strategies that “buy engineers by the pound”, and the hallway is a critical tool in supporting and improving how the federal community acquires professional services.

 

3. Customer Support.  Federal agencies purchase ~$60 billion in professional services annually.  While not all of this spend is appropriate for GSA managed contracts, it remains our mission to support agencies in better understanding and managing that spend. This year we are focused on improving our service to agencies in two areas:

  • Developing interactive and visualized data sets for agencies with significant professional services spend and, when asked, providing unbiased feedback on how that spend could be better managed. The data sets will not only highlight expiring contracts during the coming three fiscal years, but will be tailored to address an agency’s interests and goals for improving how services for their agency are being acquired.  Shared here is one example of a data set we developed on behalf of Department of Transportation.

  • Providing direct procurement and program support services. Much of the fees paid to FAS through our professional services contracts allow us to provide custom training, market research, acquisition strategy and statement of work development, as well as on-site support services.  We will be working with agencies that have significant services spend, or who rely heavily on our contracts, to ensure their needs in these areas are being met.  Additionally, we will improve our accessibility with monthly office hours, webinars, and triaged support to contracting and program professionals when and where they need it.

 

4. Industry Engagement and Management.  Finally, improved supplier management and engagement will remain a focus for the category. Industry is the primary external stakeholder for the procurement community.  Their ideas, feedback, and expertise are necessary if we are going to be able to improve how we acquire professional services. Through structured focus groups, industry association roundtable discussions,  workshops, and social media we will expand and improve the quality of our engagement.

 

While our program is in its infancy, the Professional Services Category team and I are committed to better supporting the federal acquisition community and believe these investments can result in real performance improvements.  How we measure these improvements will initially be output-focused, with your support, the outcome measures will follow as we mature the program.  We look forward to sharing our progress with you on both on GSA.gov and our Interact web forums.

 

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