The General Services Administration’s strategy for improving the federal marketplace in the coming years will rely on approximately 25 reforms, according to agency officials, but a handful of those will serve as the central points to shore up the rest of the strategy.

“We are trying to simplify the buying and selling process,” said Alan Thomas, commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, at a July 24 Association for Federal Information Resources Management event.

According to Thomas, four of those simplification initiatives will serve as cornerstones, meaning that they are central to and tied in with the success of the other “stones” around them:

  1. Development of an enterprisewide contract writing system — According to Thomas, GSA wants to ensure that the contracting workforce has “a single, core system that stores all our data and has a set of common business processes. So we’re working on that; we think that’ll be a big improvement for the workforce.”
  2. Managing catalog data — “We take a lot of information in from industry and then we represent that out to our buying agencies,” said Thomas. “We don’t do a great job or have a really good, coherent set of systems and processes that help us do that today, so we’re working on changing that.”
  3. Consolidating the Multiple Award Schedule program — According to Thomas, the agency is in the first phase of an initiative to take the current 24 multiple award schedules and merge them into a single schedule, a process that he said is “going to be a little bit of art and a little bit of science.”
  4. Progressing on a commercial platform initiative — GSA recently released a draft solicitation for an online buying portal that would operate similarly to commercial platforms such as Amazon or eBay by allowing the government to order products like office supplies without having to go through a contracting process.

But if that sounds like a crowded group of acquisition reforms being made all at once, the intent is to have a “steady roll” of updates and improvements over time, according to FAS Assistant Commissioner Crystal Philcox.

“Part of the whole strategy is to make sure that things don’t bump into each other as they roll out,” she said.

In addition to larger reforms, the agency is also looking to make smaller improvements that make customer agencies and contractors more aware of tools available to them and ultimately simplify contracting processes.

Philcox described such reforms as, “not flashy, just things we’d like to fix.”

Some of the reforms, such as those that aim to improve contract writing, will first be tested at GSA itself, so the agency can work out the kinks before marketing the reforms to other parts of the government.

“I’ve had this conversation with our friends at the Office of Management and Budget, ‘Well, let’s do something for the whole government.’ I said, ‘Well, that’d be great, [but] we don’t even use one thing for ourselves.’ What we use is kind of old and all of our folks are grumbling about it, so I don’t really want to try to run around and sell that to anybody else,” said Thomas.

“A good first question for a consultant or a technology adviser is, ‘This is great, do you use it?’ And we can’t really answer that question.”

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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