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Service Acquisition Reform Act Of 2001 (SARA)

 

STATEMENT OF STEPHEN A. PERRY
ADMINISTRATOR

 

GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION
BEFORE THE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON TECHNOLOGY AND PROCUREMENT POLICY
COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT REFORM

AND THE
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES


NOVEMBER 1, 2001

Chairman Davis, Ranking Member Turner, and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the subject of the acquisition process within the United States General Services Administration (GSA) and its impact on our customers throughout the Federal government. I will also outline GSA's views on your proposed bill, the Services Acquisition Reform Act (SARA).

Current State of the Procurement System

We are all aware of the significant effort by the Section 800 Panel. Following the issuance of the Section 800 Panel Report the changes to the acquisition system were dramatic. The positive impact of those changes was proved most recently when we were able to respond to the needs of the federal agencies after the terrorist attack on America. Literally, in hours GSA acquired and shipped 65,000 protective suits, 5,000 facemasks, 3,000 respirators, 1,000 entrenching tools, 400 cars, trucks and trailers, 500 phone sets, 250 cell phones, just to name a few items. We also provided millions of square feet of office space, and 3,200 workstations.

While the legislative changes that resulted from the Section 800 Panel report, the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act and the Clinger-Cohen Act, allow us to provide goods and services to agencies in a more efficient and effective manner - GSA believes that the current system could still be improved.

What GSA has been Doing to Review How it Provides Services to Customers Since the Passage of the Clinger-Cohen Act

Since the passage of the Clinger-Cohen Act in 1996, GSA has focused its efforts on ensuring that its acquisition workforce has the skills necessary to provide quality service to GSA customers.

To ensure that members of its acquisition workforce have these skills and competencies, GSA established mandatory core training requirements for contract specialists, purchasing agents and contracting officer representatives, as well as all warranted contracting officers. The training is provided by private sector vendors and the syllabus for this training was jointly developed by the Federal Acquisition Institute and the Defense Acquisition University. We also have an active education program within GSA to help our acquisition workforce

earn undergraduate degrees and to acquire college level training in business. In almost every GSA region college courses are brought into our offices and associates are encouraged to take courses to advance their education and professional qualifications at no cost to themselves. We also have an aggressive educational reimbursement program that encourages our associates to take college courses on their own time.

Today our acquisition workforce faces a new variety of challenges in acquiring the goods, services, construction, and real estate that our customer agencies need to perform their missions. The expectations of, and demands on our workforce are greater than ever before. In addition to managing the procurement process from cradle to grave, contracting specialists are now expected to have much greater knowledge of market conditions, industry trends and the technical details of the commodities and services they procure.

Strategic Human Capital Management

Our efforts over the past several years were a good beginning. However, GSA faces challenges such as a workforce where many associates are approaching retirement eligibility and an increased need for strategic human capital management to ensure we're providing our associates with the appropriate skills. Further, the nature of the agency's business requires that associates develop specialties for the markets in which they do business. This requires both training and on the job experience.

We also need to review training delivery options and evaluate whether our associates have acquired the skills and competencies to obtain the best value goods, services, construction, and real estate. Our review will include the use of distance learning techniques and an analysis of the best technique or combination of techniques to deliver the education and training needed. We will measure our success both in terms of the information retained at the end of the education and training and then in terms of improved performance over time.

Realizing this, we recently established an Acquisition Workforce Office. Its mission is to develop, for the first time, a strategic human capital management plan for GSA's acquisition workforce. This Office is focused on addressing GSA's acquisition workforce requirements and is working with the Acquisition Workforce Committee of the Procurement Executives Council and with the private sector in executing the office's mission. The Acquisition Workforce Committee represents

all of the Senior Procurement Executives and is developing a government wide approach to managing the acquisition workforce. To date the committee's work includes establishing a standardized set of workforce skills and competencies. It is exploring the practicality of implementing a new governmentwide standards for workforce education and training requirements. GSA's plan will:

  • Revisit who should be included in GSA's acquisition workforce (for example, currently our real estate specialists are not included);
  • Confirm the skills and competencies needed by the members of GSA's acquisition workforce;
  • Develop a plan for recruiting and retaining acquisition workforce members;
  • Develop the curriculum necessary to acquire the appropriate skills and competencies;
  • Acquire courses in a variety of formats (classroom, distance learning, etc.);
  • Evaluate the success of the courses in terms of the skills and competencies acquired and improved performance;
  • Certify that members of the acquisition workforce meet a minimum government wide standard; and,
  • Develop a milestone plan for implementing the succession plan.

Views on Proposed Legislation

We believe, both as a supplier of acquisition services to other federal agencies and as a user of the acquisition system, that more could be done to improve the federal acquisition system. However, I must qualify my remarks by stating that GSA has not reviewed any draft language. Instead, I am basing my comments on draft summaries of the proposed bill.

GSA believes that agencies should make training a priority and therefore they should be held accountable for determining the current and future needs of their acquisition workforce.

On the matter of establishing a Chief Acquisition Officer for each agency, GSA believes that any senior Chief Acquisition Officer within an agency should be responsible for providing advice and other assistance to the head of the agency as he or she requests, and to other senior personnel to ensure that acquisitions are managed in a manner that implements the policies and procedures of the Federal Acquisition Regulation and the priorities established by the head of an agency.


The government has the ability to extend contract terms based upon reviews of contractors' performance, rewarding contractors with good performance with a longer performance term under the contract. Indeed, current law and regulations provide agencies with the flexibility to incentivize contractors to achieve or exceed agreed upon performance criteria. These tools can be used in conjunction with performance based contracting to incentivize good performance and thus produce a better return on the taxpayer's dollar.

Finally, we believe that the simplified acquisition threshold should be adjusted periodically to reflect inflation and to ensure that the original purpose of the legislation is achieved.

Conclusion

Significant progress has been made over the past decade in improving the Federal acquisition system. However, we believe that any legislative proposal must not compromise fundamental notions of integrity, competition and transparency. We believe the changes we have discussed today could make the Government a more efficient buyer of goods and services.