GSA’s acquisition systems modernization effort buoyed by new contract writing system

The Navy recently awarded CGI Federal a $223 million contract to update its electronic contracting writing system.

The Army took on a similar effort with CGI Federal in 2017.

Now, it’s the General Services Administration’s turn.

GSA released a notice to industry through eBuy on March 28 detailing its initial plans to work with industry on a modernized tool. GSA said phase 1 will kick off with an April 18 industry day to detail more about its plans for a new contracting writing system.

“We plan to show you the elephant, so to speak, and share as much information during this phase as you’d care to learn from us,” GSA stated in the notice, which Federal News Network obtained. “We will be providing our current requirement definition document and FAS acquisition process maps so you can see what we’ve been up to over the last several months and talk about how the acquisition may be conducted so you can see what direction we’re heading.”

GSA said a phase 2 of industry day will include individual vendor meetings starting in late April and going into early May.

The contracting writing system modernization effort is part of the Federal Acquisition Service’s business system modernization effort to reduce costs, improve security and provide better services to its customers.

Crystal Philcox, the assistant commissioner for Enterprise Strategy Management at FAS, said over the last year, GSA has developed a series of process maps detailing the current approach and what the new one will look like for every part of the Federal Acquisition Service’s business offerings—the schedules, governmentwide acquisition contracts, assisted acquisition services and more.

Crystal Philcox, the assistant commissioner for Enterprise Strategy Management at GSA’s FAS, said the acquisition strategy for a new contract writing system should be ready this summer.

Judith Zawatsky, the assistant commissioner for the Office of Systems Management, said FAS’s approach started by coming to a common definition of what a contracting writing system means.

“It’s a complex environment so what the team [has been] focused on what is the scope of the system and what do we mean when we say contracting writing so we are not trying to be all things to all people, and so we can chunk it out and say what is the most impactful place to start and how can we expand on that,” Zawatsky said at a recent ACT-IAC event, which also ran on Ask the CIO.

In 2016, GSA worked with Distributed Solutions to launch a new cloud-based shared-service contract-writing system for federal agencies through its Acquisition Gateway’s Common Acquisition Platform. At the time, GSA said it would use a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) application for agencies to have “a turnkey, comprehensive, contract writing and administration solution.”

It’s unclear if GSA ever launched the new tool as a 2018 listing on the Acquisition Gateway’s forecast of opportunities still talks about a cloud-based contract writing system, and there are no other mentions of the system since 2016.

GSA Advantage catalog under development

For this new effort, Philcox said GSA expects to make a decision of the final acquisition strategy in late spring or early summer. She said this could include improving existing systems or buying a new one.

But no matter the approach, the contract writing system is the centerpiece of the broader modernization effort.

“The defining of the contract writing system is really going to help us figure out for some of the other projects where they start next,” Philcox said. “Once we can lock down the scope of the contract writing system then it becomes a lot easier to start to integrate things like our catalog, and who will take on which pieces on making sure we bring that capability forward.”

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Zawatsky said GSA is looking at what other agencies, including the Army, are using and what functional requirements they implemented.

Along with the contract writing system, Philcox said FAS is developing a new catalog system for GSA Advantage. She said it will simplify and clarify how GSA organizes its data so it’s more clear to agency customers what is available under Advantage.

“Certainly the goal is to be able to have something where you can pick out two or three or five products that are similar and be able to compare them across the board. Data is key for that so figuring out with [industry] what is the easiest and best way to do that. How do we get your information in our system so that we can flip it back around to buyers so it’s clear and easy for them to understand what we have out there for purchase,” she said. “Then, we also are pulling in other projects that is buyer and supplier facing that really can impact the experience of interacting with GSA.”

Philcox said the GSA Advantage catalog would be complimentary to the e-commerce marketplace initiative, particularly since the latter effort is only for items below the micro-purchase threshold of $10,000. GSA Administrator Emily Murphy told House Appropriations Committee lawmakers in March that GSA likely would be starting with office supplies under the e-commerce initiative.

GSA missed its deadline to deliver a report to Congress on its plans for the e-commerce initiative by mid-March so more information on that initiative is forthcoming.

FAS governance committee in place

Zawatsky said her office also is focused on making GSA Advantage and eBuy better.

“We have set up an alliance where we have named a business owner within the business, which is an organization that is actually touching the customers, touching the vendors, understands these things and can get feedback and bring it to the table,” she said. “The Office of Systems Management has a product manager on that, who is running all of those requirements and translating those business needs. And then we have a delivery manger from GSA IT who is working to make that come to fruition.”

Recently, that cross-FAS team addressed some security needs of GSA Advantage of eBuy and at the same time applied some user-centered design to improve the interfaces of the portals.

Zawatsky said one way GSA is managing all of these changes is through a new FAS systems governance committee, which reviews all investments, both IT and otherwise, that the service is considering.

“We really more are looking at how can we make best use of our colleagues in GSA IT, the capacity and capability they have to support our industry partners and make tools available to our customers, and how do we do that holistically?” she said. “How do we make great decisions together for not just limited dollars, but limited capacity, and how do we prioritize that?” It’s what can we design together to best allow the customers to get to the mission critical services and goods they need.”

Zawatsky said the committee makes recommendations to FAS Commission Alan Thomas on a weekly basis.

“Each of our business lines represent essentially the business owner for a multitude of systems, and in some cases, multiple business owners. Contract writing, obviously we have a lot of contracting officers and lot of partners that need to interface with these things,” she said. “The great example there is we have one business owner, one project manager who is overseeing contract writing and she is partnered with the entirety of FAS, who is impacted by it. GSA IT is represented on that team and my team has product leads represented on that team. As we begin to conceive on what those designs look like, we will bring in the users one-by-one.”

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