The General Services Administration has spent the last few years reorganizing its contracts, developing new ways for agencies to buy government services and working to create the contracting tools of the future. The goal is to make it easier and cheaper for agencies to spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year while developing the expertise and resources to make smarter decisions. Tiffany Hixson, director for GSA's Northwest Arctic Region and the executive spearheading many of GSA's recent efforts, sat down with former Federal Times Staff Writer Andy Medici to talk about current projects.
Please discuss GSA's efforts to make its products and services stronger and more responsive from a customer-service perspective.
Well, I'll start with the consolidation effort that we're working on for our schedules program. And really that has been driven by our customer agencies. We had what were eight schedules where contracting officers were trying to compete complex requirements across eight contracts. That's pretty complex contracting. And getting all of these contracts into one environment is going to make it so much easier for contracting officers to buy on the schedules. It's a big lift, but it's something that we really need to do. And we'll be looking at the next round of improvements after we get through the consolidation.
We are already starting to get feedback from customers and industry on what we might want to attack after we get into that one environment.
Can you talk about how GSA is not just reorganizing its schedules program and its offerings, but also internally?
I think that's one of the real benefits of category management. For example, before we did not have really a strategic approach to dealing with our federal agency customers. So, for example, there wasn't an executive that understood how [Department of Homeland Security] is buying services, how GSA is supporting them in buying those services, and, how we could be adding better value, for that.
That analytical work was not happening. It is today. And we're going to be able to support senior procurement executives with achieving what they're trying to achieve from a professional services environment. Many agencies are focused on reducing spending in this area, and we can be of support to them in doing that. The way we were structured previously, there wasn't an executive that was focused on supporting senior procurement executives in that way. And now we are. And I think that's just a huge step forward for the agency.
How are GSA's new efforts at contract consolidations and reorganizations playing into better customer experiences for agencies and industry?
I'll start with OASIS [One Acquistion Solution for Integrated Services]. The requirements for OASIS and what agencies weren't getting from our current contract vehicles that they needed came from our customer agencies. How do they want to see the pricing? How do they want to see labor categories? What was really the value add that we needed to provide so they had a contract that they were going to use? And, as a result of that work, we already have the Air Force and the Army that see a lot of value in the contract vehicle. We signed memorandums of understanding with both of those agencies. So they get a discounted fee because they said, 'Hey, we're going to be putting a lot of contract work through OASIS and our fee structure needed to be adjusted to support that kind of spend.'
That's one example of really the customer driving and helping GSA set up a contract that meets their needs.
We've got two other contract activities that we're doing right now, two BPAs [blanket purchase agreements]. One is for data breach response services, and that's actually out for competition right now. And the requirements were provided to us by the CIO Council. They had a need for a contract that provided a whole sea of services in response to when there's a data breach. And we got all the requirements for them. Now we're going to go out and set up a contract that they're going to use that's going to meet their needs. There's also a requirement in that space to help contracting officers really understand how to buy those services. So we're going to be developing an ordering guide that helps contracting officers understand if it's this kind of data breach, you know here's how you might structure your contract.
But iIt's really about that value-added piece. Right. So it's good that we — for a change — got requirements that we are getting from our customers. And that's really important. There's no point in putting a contract out there that someone's not going to use. But, too, it's really helping the contracting community be able to leverage that contract in a way that meets their customers' needs. When you're responding to some type of data breach it could be very small in scale and pretty simple to respond to. Or very complex. And sometimes you don't know how big of a problem that you've got. So part of the services that we provided on this contract vehicle is to go in and do the analytical work. You know, how bad was the data breach? And once you know how bad it is, well, then you have to go price how are we going to respond to it. And how are we going to fix it. And getting all of that work structured in a contract the right way is hard. Especially when we're required to price stuff before we buy it.
What are your thoughts about your next year or year-and-a-half at GSA, and what the end results of your efforts might be?
My goal is really to have tools and resources in places that connect buyers across government. And this is a big want, but that's what we're working toward. So they really know how to effectively buy services.
I mean, we didn't talk about the professional services hallway, which is in our acquisition gateway. We are spending a lot of resources in that space to provide digital tools to contracting officers to use for a pricing perspective, best practices in terms of how to draft a statement of work. We've got a statement of work library up and running.
And also being able to connect with the acquisition community in a way that we haven't been able to do before. When I was a contracting officer back in the day, you know, the old-fashioned way was you called your friends over at another agency and said, 'Hey, did you buy this? You know, what was your experience? How much did it cost? What worked? What didn't work?' We want to be able to create that environment virtually so the entire community can be connected in sharing that information. And then organize it in a way that's useful and people can find what they need. That's huge in terms of just reducing the cost of acquiring services. It's not just about the instant contract. It's about all the work that goes in upfront to define that requirement, make sure that you're being clear with industry, you know, on the back end. How hard is this going to be to administer?