The General Services Administration is used to straddling the line of responding to a crisis and plowing ahead with dozens of initiatives.
The current pandemic emergency, however, is forcing the Federal Acquisition Service to move at an accelerated pace. Whether it’s buying medical supplies or laptops, contracting officers are under a different kind of pressure today.
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Julie Dunne, the commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service at GSA, said contracting officers are changing their approaches to keep up with agency needs, all the while the policy team is ensuring the other long-term initiatives are not suffering.
The e-commerce marketplace platform is the most recent example of FAS’s need to balance priorities.
GSA decided to pause the initiative during the first few weeks of the coronavirus emergency. But Dunne said FAS lifted the pause and the plan for award, while delayed a bit, is still moving forward.
“You always are reacting to the environment, but frankly things generally have kept on track,” Dunne said in an exclusive interview. “We are trying to maintain our momentum by multi-tasking.”
Dunne, who became the permanent commissioner of FAS in January, said for other initiatives such as the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) program it’s too early to tell if or how the pandemic will impact the awarding of contracts.
Another priority that many vendors are waiting to hear about is the Alliant 2 small business contract.
GSA made awards in December 2017 and faced a series of protests. GSA decided in August to take corrective action and take revised proposals for the $15 billion IT services contract.
“It’s in the midst of litigation so I can’t say too much. I understand the need for and the value of making sure we get information out quickly. I’m hopeful in the next couple of weeks there will be some developments that we can share,” Dunne said. “GSA’s leadership is fully committed to small business and making sure they are a part of our industrial base.”
Dunne said whether it’s EIS or the schedules consolidation effort, FAS is paying close attention to the progress each of these initiatives are making.
“We are in constant contact with the agencies and hearing from the vendors in terms of what they are hearing and seeing and what their capacity is. We will continue to monitor that,” she said. “It’s been almost two months now since we have been dealing with this. We are monitoring things very carefully and trying to balance the workload.”
The balance Dunne speaks of isn’t easy these days.
GSA tends to be among the first places agencies go to when they need a product or service quickly.
For example, the Small Business Administration needed 3,000 laptops to ensure its employees could telework and meet the requirements of the stimulus law. GSA provided them despite what SBA chief information officer Maria Roat said was a tight supply chain.
“We worked with GSA who had the equipment available. We could get laptops, but peripheral equipment such as screens, keyboards and mice lagged behind it,” Roat said during an April 30 webinar sponsored by ACT-IAC. “We saw the strain on the supply chain in general from [a] hardware perspective. We talked to many vendors who were working through what we needed and they were saying we just don’t have equipment available.”
The Navy called on GSA in early April when its hospital ships, the USNS Comfort and the USNS Mercy, needed supplies. Dunne said FAS delivered the products in record time.
“That was due to the hard work of some of our contracting professionals. I think time to award we are stepping up because we understand the urgency and we are trying to support other agencies like DoD and the like who are on the front lines of things,” she said.
FAS is working with GSA’s senior procurement executive Jeff Koses on policy changes such as prompt payment for small businesses or the onboarding and off boarding of contractors.
“There has been training for 1102s [contracting officers] and heads of contracting activities. There has been open communications. I hold daily meetings with all of my leadership as does [GSA Administrator] Emily [Murphy]. That helps us understand where the needs are in terms of what flexibilities do we need here and how can we better serve our customers,” Dunne said. “The crisis increased the opportunity for FAS and the Public Building Service to work together. We used our acquisition expertise to help them with their supplies [to clean federal buildings].”
In addition to some of the policy changes and the ongoing initiatives, FAS also is expanding its small business innovation research (SBIR) program, part three.
GSA launched an effort in August 2018 to help connect companies with federal buyers.
Dunne said that assisted acquisition services pilot is now permanent and made a recent award to help with a specific Defense Department challenge.
“They were able to make an award in the DoD space to help with supply chain risk management, which will lead to making sure medical equipment and other types of providers are vetted appropriately. We got some kudos from DoD for making that award in an expedited manner,” she said. “The global supply service has been at the front of the line in terms of pushing forward with COVID-19 response. They automated acceptance of vendor back orders and that saved more time on the back end.”
Dunne said by adding automation to checking on vendors’ products, it relieved some the burden on contracting officers so they didn’t have to perform this manual process.
Over the long term, Dunne said it’s unclear if the coronavirus pandemic will impact FAS’ revenues, which funds 80-90% of all their activities.
She said certain markets like travel will take a hit, but others like cleaning products or enhanced screening services where the demand was small, but now has increased exponentially.
“The acquisition workforce has been incredible and it’s been an enterprisewide effort to deliver,” she said. “GSA has made it apparent that we are here to help our customer agencies and we’ve tried to anticipate needs by putting requests for information out there and the like. Vendors are coming to us with innovative products and services and that’s really helpful.”