As Mary Davie describes it, almost every contract program under her purview at the Office of Integrated Technology Services is going through an evolution—"we might say, up for recompete," the ITS assistant commissioner at the General Services Administration told Federal Times Editor Jill Aitoro.
But these are not recompetes in the traditional sense. The contracts are not expiring. Instead, GSA is looking at where the market is going, what agencies need to buy, and filling in holes. That's the concept of category management, Davie said—something GSA has spent a lot of time promoting lately. She sat down with Aitoro to paint an even clearer picture.
We've heard a lot about category management. Talk to me about how the concept evolved.
Category management is something that we—and, specifically, in ITS—have been looking at for at least a couple of years now. Government spends about $80 billion on IT, as an example. About a quarter of that flows through ITS. It gives us a lot of exposure to different kinds of technology, and the way the different agencies are using it, applying it to the different challenges that they have. The challenge we have is in helping them buy it the best way.
People come to GSA, and they know, for instance, that we have GWACs, we have Schedule 70, we have telecommunications contracts, we have contracts specific to identity management, satellite contracts—I always say there is really nothing you cannot buy through the contracts that we have in place. But then people become a little bit confused. Which contract should I use for this specific requirement? How do I know? How do I compare your contract to something NASA or NIH or another agency has in place? Also, our folks historically were sort of contract-focused. They were focused on developing a contract, and then helping agencies figure out how to buy.
So what are the goals?
With category management, the goals really are to understand better what it is you are buying. Obviously, at the end of the day, there is a transaction, somebody needs to use a contract to do that. Getting expertise around what is being bought is what I am really excited for. My telecommunications group has operated as a category for years. They developed it on the industry side, and now they know in government, what the needs are. And then, sharing information—what is being bought off what contract. What is working well? How much are we paying for? I think it is really going to help reduce some duplication, get better pricing, but really, better outcomes in what is being purchased.
Government and industry have often claimed that the people who were writing the contracts were not the ones who understood the IT requirements behind them. Was addressing that disconnect part of the thought process?
Those teams need to be together. As we were developing, for instance, our next-generation network services contracts—the Enterprise Information Solutions contract—the program team, worked with other agencies and with industry the entire time. [The] goal was that they would have a really good understanding of not only [the] technology, but how to buy it. The acquisition people would be involved from the very beginning, and not just be given a set of requirements and [told], "can you translate this into a contract?" They have been a part of it, and they will continue to be a part of it once it is awarded.
Talk to me about where Network Solutions 2020 stands?
As I mentioned, we have satellite contracts, wireless contracts, last mile contracts, local service contracts across regions, national contracts. But technology changes, the way agencies buy change. Basic, dial-tone voice was a big thing ten years ago, and now it is really IP-based. It is data. It is enterprise. You do not have the need for specific, regional solutions—or maybe in some cases you still do.
We looked at all of that and said, what can we do from a contract consolidation perspective? What can we do from an agency buying perspective? How do we address that industry and that change? We looked again at what was being purchased, and who the providers were, and then what could be purchased between now and—really, 2031, which is where EIS is going to take us to. We have transport requirements, we have infrastructure requirements. What is that going to look like? But then, what else should we be anticipating, or what should we be anticipating that we might not know about yet? It really does allow for emerging technology, new companies to come into play over time. We are really excited by that. We are still working with DoD, for instance, on satellite—the next generation of satellite contracts, that has been really successful not only for us, but the rest of government. That is what we are really doing. Looking at all of those solution sets and figuring out how to address them.
Something you and I have even spoken about before is the challenge between industry collaborating effectively with government. Where does that stand?
It has been a passionate area of mine for years. And I believe—to the point where I probably drive some folks crazy at my own organization—collaborate as much as you can. I am not saying how to do it, but share information to the extent that you can. The more you tell, the more you listen, the more you have that two-way dialogue, the better we are going to be on the front end, and the better the agencies will be with the project outcomes. We look at a variety of ways to collaborate, whether it is the industry days, or the one-on-one sessions, or the use of tools.
For instance, on Alliant 2, they released a second draft RFP [in October]. That team has done such a great job talking with people. And I keep hearing—they are out there, they are open, they are receptive. But because of that, and the comments and the feedback, everybody kept saying, we need a second draft RFP. And I said, 'I do not know if we need it or not. But what I would encourage you to do is share where you are now. What has changed? Put it up on the internet platform and just publish some sort of draft section. Here is where we were, this is kind of how we see this headed." Whatever we can do to share information—I am behind it, I will do whatever I can.
So much seems to be about culture, and getting the government's brain around the fact that this is okay to do.
Yeah. And the contracting officers feel like they have cover. They still get to ultimately make the decision—because that is what they are supposed to do. But again, it is a team approach. There is leadership cover. There is leadership encouragement that we can do this, and that it is really a good thing to do.
From your perspective, is it filtering into other agencies?
I have been seeing it. It really depends, again, on what the approach is. People are also looking for different ways to approach acquisition. I know at HHS, the Buyers Club has been talked about a lot. That is a really interesting and different way to approach acquisition.
Jill Aitoro was editor of Defense News. She was also executive editor of Sightline Media's Business-to-Government group, including Defense News, C4ISRNET, Federal Times and Fifth Domain. She brought over 15 years’ experience in editing and reporting on defense and federal programs, policy, procurement, and technology.