New technology service builds upon GSA’s growing IT influence

In many ways, the General Services Administration’s new Technology Transformation Service is as much about proving innovative approaches to the rest of the government as it is about keeping the internal workings of the agency on the cutting edge.

A recent meeting led by Denise Turner Roth, GSA’s administrator, David Shive, the GSA chief information officer, and Mary Davie, the assistant commissioner of the Office of Integrated Technology Services in the Federal Acquisition Service, drove home this point.

“As with any organization, it’s always important to stop and understand the why. Why are we launching the TTS? Why are we focused on the technology? Why does technology matter in the government space? That’s really what that opportunity was,” Turner Roth said in an interview with Federal News Radio after her speech at the ACT-IAC Management of Change conference in Cambridge, Maryland. “The discussion centered on the role of technology, how it’s developed in the federal government and where the vision is for the future.”

Turner Roth said the all facets of GSA will need to support the standup of the new service.

“There are a number of times in which a customer or partner agency has come and asked us for help in designing our cloud or thinking about our infrastructure changes,” she said. “Certainly, we have that expertise internal, but no one dedicated to that space so that’s what really comes available with TTS.”

Turner Roth said GSA must make some internal changes to get TTS from three separate organizations to one cohesive structure.

“In terms of the cost structure, it will build on the existing cost structure, which does have multiple sources. We will look to align those sources so it’s not as confusing in any given budget year,” she said. “The idea is for our customers not to experience any change. Ultimately if they do see any change, it should be an enhancement of the work they are doing with any given part of our organization. Internally, how we work across offices will feel different. For example, we need to start thinking about when there is a request for support what are the various offices that support can come from? What is the right place to start?”

One place agencies are looking more for IT services is the assorted contracts GSA runs.

Davie said nearly every contract that comes under ITS saw increases in sales in fiscal 2015 and she expects the trend to continue in 2016.

“If you look at the use of [governmentwide acquisition contracts], Schedule 70, wireless, Networx, they all went up,” Davie said in a separate interview with Federal News Radio. “The open market purchases may be going down so agency spend may be staying the same but they are, in fact, using existing contracts. All of the extensive outreach we’ve been doing to work with agencies and make them aware and show them how to use these contracts. Whether it’s a GSA contract or not, they just aren’t doing their own thing as much.”

Davie said ITS saw increases in the use of its identity management card and services program, specifically because of the cyber sprint as well as a 6.3 percent increase in the use of the Networx telecommunications contract and a 500 percent on the wireless contracts with savings on average of 27 percent.

The jewel of the ITS portfolio is Schedule 70 for technology products and services. It has routinely been the most popular contract vehicle for agencies over the last 20 years.

After two straight years of decline, GSA saw an increase in sales under Schedule 70 to almost $15 billion. Agencies spent $14.2 billion in 2014 and $14.6 billion in 2013, which was more than $1 billion less than what they spent in 2011.

“We have so many initiatives focused on it and I think that’s starting to pay off,” Davie said. “Whether we are looking at price variability and how to narrow that between identical products, as an example, or giving agencies tools to use to search the schedules, or doing the outreach on the training of the program and talking about what they should do to negotiate better prices. And then at the same time, we have been using the Schedule as the basis for so many things on our governmentwide solutions so Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative wireless contract was based on schedules and saw a lot of growth. We awarded the Salesforce blanket purchase agreement as part of our Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) working group. We have the agile BPA that 18F is now using and looking at what the next generation looks like. And then making things easier to find and buy particularly on Schedule 70 like the cloud special item number or the health IT special item number and really give some focus to some very specialized services agencies may want to buy.”

Overall, GSA saw a total of $33 billion in spending across all schedule contracts. The total spend increased slightly in 2015 as compared to 2014,  but that comes after three straight years of decreases, dropping from $39 billion in 2011 to a low of $32.9 billion in 2014.

At the same time, the decisions by NASA and the Defense Department to deviate from the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) and tell their contracting officers that they should make their own determinations about the price reasonableness on the GSA schedules didn’t have a big impact.

Davie said DoD remains GSA’s largest buyer and the business volume has increased despite the deviations.

Davie said GSA is trying to give contracting officers tools to address the concerns about pricing.

She said GSA also has done a lot of work looking at pricing on the schedules as well.

“On Schedule 70 specifically, we’ve done a lot of work on pricing, labor categories, product pricing for identical items and we’ve reached out to companies and said ‘you’re outside this range that we’ve established, and you need to get in the range, or the more data and access to data agencies have, they will see you are outside the range.’ I can’t tell you how many companies have thanked us for giving that information, by making it more transparent to them so they know where they stand against their own competitors. They have, in fact, lowered prices because of that.”

Another concern about the schedules program is whether GSA is chipping away at the base by developing BPAs on top of it such as the one for Salesforce services.

Davie said GSA sees the BPAs as complimentary, not in competition. She said the BPAs bring together disparate existing contract under more standard terms and conditions.

“It’s a need for something that is very focused whether we need a wireless solution or a developer solutions or whatever it might be and Schedule 70 just provides a very convenient way to reach a number of companies that specialize in that area and that’s their market niche,” she said.

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