Thomas A. Sharpe, Commissioner of GSA's Federal Acquisition Service, outlines his vision of GSA's future acquisition efforts. (Alan Lessig / Federal Times)
The General Services Administration plans to more than double its market share of government spending by crafting a new digital ecosystem of contract offerings and interactive purchasing tools.
Tom Sharpe, the commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, told Federal Times the agency plans to boost its market share from 14 to 33 percent by the end of fiscal year 2016. Reduced budgets at agency procurement shops means now is the time for GSA to show what it can do for agencies, he added.
“I would argue the Federal Acquisition Service at GSA should be a centralized buyer — and we are going to make that case and we are going to fight for that,” Sharpe said.
GSA is already rolling out the cornerstone of that case, calling it “The Government Acquisition Marketplace.” The agency is billing it as a one-stop digital shop for government acquisition and the next stage in an acquisition landscape that requires data-driven solutions.
Within the marketplace GSA is setting up its common acquisition portal, which will offer agencies white papers, prices paid information as well as tips and best practices regarding a variety of acquisition topics. Agencies will eventually be able to compare the prices and costs of all governmentwide acquisition contracts before finally making a purchase or contract decision.
The agency is already standardizing part numbers and skills descriptions in order to create apples-to-apples comparisons across contracts and agencies, Sharpe said.
GSA is also increasingly able to give its customers detailed data on what they are spending on goods and services and whether they can save any money by using different contracts, implementing internal reforms or by changing behaviors, Sharpe Said.
By the end of the year GSA will have set up five acquisition areas for agencies in a static format. By the end of next year GSA will make the site interactive and provide the tools agencies need to enter into contracts and choose the services they want, Sharpe said.
The areas include IT hardware and software, professional services, human resources and transportation services, according to GSA.
Customers will be led down digital “hallways” filled with information as well as expert advice from GSA in a variety of categories to help agencies make the right purchasing decisions. These “category managers” will be on hand to offer information, guidance and ultimately help agencies pick the right contracts.
Sharpe said agencies waste money duplicating contracting efforts, which is why GSA is making its new contracts more flexible. The recently released OASIS contract is a model of how agencies won’t have to make their own in order to find contracts that fit their needs.
GSA also will work to expand its offerings for agencies looking to completely outsource their own procurement efforts to GSA and focus on their actual missions, Sharpe said.
We also are finding customers that are dissatisfied with their procurement shops and would like to get some support,” Sharpe said. “We are there to give them the right solution and the right procurement to meet their needs.”
He said GSA is already working on a pilot with an agency he would not name to outsource some of its contracting activities to GSA. GSA also hopes to grow its business in areas where agencies do not want to outsource acquisition completely but need more assistance than normal, Sharpe said.
As GSA enters new territory Sharpe said the agency must not be afraid to fail as long as it is able to take those failures and turn them into lessons to strengthen future efforts and help serve agencies better.
“We want to take small, agile steps and where we have issues find them very, very soon at while they are small and fix them,” Sharpe said.
He said even if GSA makes mistakes early on in the process the system as it stands now – with its added duplication, costs and inefficiency – is not one agencies should be happy with.
“We are going to make mistakes, you bet,” Sharpe said. “But what the government is doing right now is a mistake.”