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Editorial: Scandal that rocked GSA also got it back on track

Oct. 28, 2012 - 03:14PM   |  
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It may not have seemed so at the time, but the conference scandal that rocked the General Services Administration this year was the best thing that could have happened to the federal buying service.

It toppled GSA’s leadership and ushered in reform-minded Dan Tangherlini with a mission to refocus the agency on its No. 1 mission: saving the government money.

GSA had clearly lost its way.

Under its previous administrator, Martha Johnson, conferences had devolved into self-aggrandizing branding events. More concerned with achieving “net zero” energy consumption than cutting the cost of goods and services, Johnson’s leadership produced egregious new leasing and construction deals, even as excess property ballooned. New contracts grew GSA’s portfolio without creating better value for customer agencies. And industrial-sized bonuses were paid to not just top GSA performers, but virtually every employee, regardless of how reckless or wasteful they may have been.

Tangherlini put a stop to all that.

After a monthslong, top-to-bottom review, Tangherlini has now launched a series of much-needed reforms.

He scaled back, and even canceled, conferences, tightened financial oversight, reviewed the bonus program and dramatically downsized GSA’s leasing and construction agenda.

Now he says he will shrink the federal supply schedules program, phasing out more than 8,000 schedule contracts that get little or no business and consolidating 31 supply schedules into eight. The move will save GSA $24 million a year, the agency claims. Vendors may complain, but streamlining GSA’s complex and bloated schedules is the right move.

In recent years, agencies have been taking more of their contracting business in-house, moving away from the supply schedules program. In fact, after six years of growth, supply schedule sales actually declined in 2011 for the first time in recent memory.

Meanwhile, GSA’s plan to add more strategic-sourcing contracts — that is, bulk purchase contracts for rental cars, janitorial products and more — makes sense. The agency will expand from four strategic sourcing contracts to 10 in the next three years, likely saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming years.

This is what GSA should have been doing all along. It shouldn’t be that way, but sometimes it takes a scandal to get an organization back on track.

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