GSA changes plans, will keep service schedules open after all

This story was updated at 4:09 p.m. on August 28 with new information from GSA.

The General Services Administration has figured out a way not to have to temporarily close down its services schedules to new offerors after all.

After Federal News Radio reported the Federal Acquisition Service’s plans to suspend the services schedules to new vendors while it put the pieces in place to give the program a facelift, Tiffany Hixson, FAS’s professional services category executive, said her team has now figured out a way to run both the current schedules and the new consolidated schedule at the same time.

“Since the last time we talked, my team really has been looking at the challenge of closing the schedules even for a short period of time. Industry had quite a few concerns with that part of our acquisition strategy,” Hixson said in a follow-up interview Thursday. “So what we decided to do is open the new professional services schedule at the same time that we are going to be transitioning our existing schedules to our new contract environment. So instead of working our process in serial fashion, we are going to be doing that in parallel fashion and that takes care of the problem. So we do not have to close the schedules, which is a big win for us and also for industry.”

She added, initially, FAS thought it would have some internal system challenges that would have required the suspension of the professional services schedules to new offerors, but in the end, they solved those potential problems.

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Hixson said when the consolidated schedule is ready in March, all new vendors will apply for a spot on it instead of the current set of professional services contracts.

“Once we’ve worked with industry over the next six months to get their feedback on the number of schedules we need to have, we are optimally looking to have one services schedule, but may end up with two or three,” she said. “Once we work through that with industry, we will be able to open the new solicitation based on what that acquisition strategy looks like.”

Currently, there are 3,500 schedule holders and agencies spent about $11 billion on these seven schedules in 2013, with MOBIS and the financial service schedule leading the way.

“We’ve got a team of folks working through when the expirations are happening for the existing schedule contracts, how do we consolidate those in a time-phased approach so we are not setting ourselves up for a huge administrative burden when it comes time to exercise options or award new contracts?” she said. “Getting new 20-year contracts in place is going to be a benefit for both industry and us. The trick there is we don’t want everything to expire at the same time where we will have a bow wave of 2,500 contracts we will have to renew all at the same time.”

Hixson also is leading the services section of FAS’ category management and hallways initiatives. FAS Commissioner Tom Sharpe revealed more details Aug. 21 on the four ways he wants to improve how the organization delivers services and value.

Hixson said the services hallway will help GSA align our professional services offerings instead of having multiple centers manage multiple parts of the functional category.

“We hope we will be able to drive consistency across all of our professional services offerings by making the organizational change,” she said.

To reach that consistency, GSA has been putting the pieces in place over the last two years, starting with the OASIS contracts for professional services. GSA awarded 23 firms a spot on the OASIS small businesses and 74 vendors a spot on the OASIS unrestricted multiple award contracts for complex professional services earlier this year. The One Acquisition Solution for Integrated Services (OASIS) could be worth more than $10 billion over the 10-year life of the contract.

Along with OASIS and the consolidated schedule, Hixson said GSA is considering whether there is a need for a logistics multiple award contract similar to OASIS.

Piloting data analysis services

Another area is supporting customer agencies with data analytics. In fact, Hixson said her office is running a pilot with the Transportation Department to analyze its professional services spending and where GSA contracts could benefit them.

“We have been testing some new data visualization software here in FAS, and we are really starting to see buying trends and spend in a very different way,” she said. “It’s much easier than what we’ve done traditionally … which was you download a bunch of data from Federal Procurement Data System and try to see where you are spending dollars with what contractors, in what locations, how many contracts do you have with a given vendor, what do those prices look like and what exactly are we buying from those contractors.”

The data visualization tool lets GSA contracting experts look at FPDS spend data in a much easier way, such as by mapping out which contracting offices are buying what types of services and from which vendors. Hixson said that information lets executives see opportunities to buy more efficiently and effectively.

Hixson said the executives are using this data to look at where all agencies are buying foreign language services, and whether it makes sense to set up regional blanket purchase agreements instead of one to serve the entire country, because many of the firms that provide these services are small businesses.

Hixson said the pilot with Transportation could turn into another service GSA offers through the services hallway.

“We would have a team on my staff that would be available to agencies to do that analytical work for them, whether at a component level or for a specific contracting office,” she said. “They already pay a fee to use our schedules, and this is a service we could provide to them at no extra charge. We really think this is the type of value-added work that we should be doing for federal agencies.”

Addressing concerns over fees

The hallways also will include information contracting officers would need to know about buying services, best practices, prices paid data and access to virtual and in-person training.

“We are starting that planning work and are hoping to get that launched with some new tools for federal buyers probably by late March 2015,” Hixson said.

Another pilot that is just getting kicked off is with the Army Medical Command. GSA in March signed a memorandum of understanding to help Army Medical Command contracting officers make better use of schedules to obtain lower costs and quicker delivery of services.

This agreement with the Army is similar to the one the Air Force signed with GSA in December 2013 to use the OASIS contract to buy professional services.

“We are really looking at replicating that model with other agencies. We also started to think about whether this is something we need to do on schedules. There are a number of large agencies that really are heavy users of GSA schedules, OASIS, Alliant and many of our larger contract vehicles. We’ve heard from federal agencies that they are concerned about the fees they pay in our schedules environment,” Hixson said. “We are looking at maybe either a tiered fee structure approach, a similar MOU approach that we’ve got for the Air Force and OASIS, and expanding that into the schedules environment. We’d really be looking at what I like to call an enterprise account management approach for agencies that have a significant professional services spend.”

She added the win-win for both GSA and the customer agency would be reduced costs all around.

GSA would look at the spend for each agency, ensure it is covering its costs and trying then to reduce administrative costs for its customers as much as possible.

“We also have been looking and have used some other models for supporting federal agencies that have a good amount of spend through our contract vehicles,” Hixson said. “The Army Material Command on the schedules side, we’ve been working with them for five years now and we have five on-site GSA employees that support them in doing acquisition planning, writing statements of work, preparing RFQs to go out through a series of BPAs they are managing there. So that’s another way we can support our customers from a MOU perspective.”

One way to address concerns over the fees many large agencies are paying is through a new customer working group that will meet in October. Hixson said she is focused on the top 10 Defense Department components that spend the most on professional services with GSA.

“If we need to start looking at establishing MOUs that deal with our pricing structure for those top 10 agencies, we will start there and see how that works,” she said. “All of this is about better serving our federal contracting officers and program managers. My focus is really communicating what we are doing, making sure that both our federal agency partners and industry partners are well informed about what we are doing.”

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