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FAS Commissioner Williams Addresses Gulf Coast Summit

As prepared for delivery


Remarks by
Jim Williams
Commissioner
Federal Acquisition Service
Gulf Coast Reconstruction & Hurricane Preparedness Summit
Kenner, LA
8/28/06


Thank you very much.

Good morning everyone. I suppose the first thing you should know about the U.S. General Services Administration is that its leader – my boss – is a native of New Orleans.

Last year at this time, Lurita Doan was not in much of a position to do anything about the hurricane that devastated her native town and destroyed her childhood home.

Last year, she was a small businesswoman. A very successful small businesswoman to be sure, but not the head of the government’s premier procurement and acquisition agency.

Flash forward to last February. Lurita was here in New Orleans for Mardi Gras when her cell phone rang. The caller asked if she wanted to come to Washington and talk about a wonderful opportunity.

She actually asked, well, can’t it wait until after Mardi Gras?

And the caller said, well, sure.

She went in the following Thursday, and things started happening quickly.
As President Bush’s nominee for Administrator of GSA, Lurita received quick, unanimous Senate confirmation. She was sworn in on May 31st, which means she’s now been on the job about three months.

The first time she spoke to the 12,000-strong, nationwide GSA workforce, she listed several top priorities. One of them was to ramp up GSA’s ability to respond quickly in emergencies.

Let me quote her precisely:

“I will be focused,” she said, “on improving GSA’s ability to respond quickly when the next emergency arises.  GSA’s ability to leverage the power of the private sector and quickly contract for goods and services can make an enormous difference for people in distress during national emergencies.”

That last part is worth repeating.

“GSA’s ability to leverage the power of the private sector and quickly contract for goods and services can make an enormous difference for people in distress during national emergencies.”

That is something she and I – as Commissioner of GSA’s new Federal Acquisition Service – F-A-S – believe very strongly.

So there are really two things to talk about here today:

1 – What GSA has done in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the on-going federally-funded work that remains, and possible contracting opportunities, and…

2 – What steps GSA has taken to be better prepared in case Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Gordon, Helene, or any of the other potential storms out there decides to grow into a hurricane and visit our shores.

Administrator Doan visited New Orleans last month. She spoke on these matters, but mostly she was here to help ensure that small businesses are full and active participants in the clean-up and rebuilding process. An entire day was devoted to matching small businesses with large contractors involved in these efforts.

Let me give you some numbers to put things in perspective:

GSA has spent over $630 million in procuring goods and services in support of Katrina relief efforts.  Of that amount, 76 percent – $478 million – has gone to small businesses, with $37 million going to firms classified as small disadvantaged businesses.  In addition, GSA awarded $60 million in contracting with small, women-owned businesses and $13 million with hubzone small businesses.  $48 million was spent in the state of Louisiana alone. 

GSA has also performed detailed studies identifying the work needed to repair federally-owned buildings in the New Orleans area.
- $11.2 m – the amount already obligated by 6/30/06 to be paid or paid for work in process or completed.
- $39.5 m – additional funds to be obligated by 9/30 for work being contracted.
- $12 m – estimated funds needed to accomplish the repair work in FY ’07.
- $62.7 m – the total  (of these funds, $44m is for Custom House, the worst-hit building in our inventory.  Remaining $18.7m was/will be used for repairs to 10 other buildings in New Orleans).

GSA’s advocate for small business is the Office of Small Business Utilization. This office, which has regional branches throughout the country, does extensive outreach to help small, disadvantaged businesses -- including women-owned, hub-zone, and firms owned by service disabled veterans -- get better positioned to take advantage of federal contracting opportunities.

  • Outreach activities include:
  • Procurement networking sessions;
  • Marketing strategies and techniques workshops;
  • Electronic commerce/electronic data interchange training sessions;
  • Interagency networking breakfasts;
  • Trade missions;
  • Roundtables; and
  • Procurement conferences.

Some of you may have already taken advantage of the education and training we offer. If not, I urge you to do so. Detailed information is available at www.gsa.gov/sbu

Let me give you four quick tips about federal contracting.

First, know the pros and cons of being a federal contractor.

The pros first:

  • The government always pays its bills.
  • We buy almost everything—more than $350 billion in prime contracts were awarded in FY 2005--approximately $60 billion by GSA, and …
  • The government has Congressionaly mandated goals for using small businesses. 

Now the cons:

  • The federal government is a bureaucracy. There are over 2,000 pages of Federal Acquisition Regulations. 
  • And there are thousands of individual agency specific rules and regulations. 

You’ll need to understand the relevant portions of these documents to succeed,

Deciding to be a federal contractor takes a commitment of time, energy, and hard work.  If you just dip your toe in the pool of federal contracts, all you’re likely to get is cold feet.  

Second tip:

Learn how GSA and the government buy. 

  • While we purchase a lot of products, more and more of what we buy are services – 60% governmentwide, 80% if you exclude major weapons systems.  So consider packaging your business offering as services.  Even computer equipment can be purchased as “seated service”—meaning technical support is part of the package.
  • For service contracts, 40 percent of each agency’s services must be “performance based. “
  • In the case of major and complex it systems, the government is moving to implement “earned value management.” 
  • Both of these requirements mean government service contracts are assessed according to specific and complex methodologies intended to quantify performance. 

Incorporating these requirements in your proposal shows you already understand one key government requirement and that your proposal, if implemented, would assist the agency in meeting its performance targets.

My third tip:

Just because your company’s name is on the GSA schedule, it doesn’t mean federal agencies will be knocking at your door.   Getting on schedule was the easy part!  Next you’ll need to market your products or services. 

  • Target the agencies you want to do business with - if you chase every piece of federal business, you’ll run yourself ragged. 
  • Start by figuring out which agencies buy what you sell.  Information on contracts that have been awarded is available online through the Federal Procurement Data System – www.fpds.gov .  You can also check the archives of www.fedbizopps.gov to find out what agencies routinely buy. 
  • What is “Fedbizopps?” (Federal Business Opportunities)  it’s the online site where all federal government procurement needs above $25,000 are posted.  This is where you’ll find a comprehensive listing of all open market solicitations.
  • Let’s say you’ve found a government agency solicitation that matches your firm’s expertise perfectly.  Here are some things the agency will want to know about you:
    - That you understand the agency’s needs and goals
    - That you can provide them with a solution.  
    - That you can help them do this task better.
    - And by “them,” I mean program specialists, not contracting officers.  Meet the specialists and make them aware of your unique capabilities, whether or not there’s a relevant solicitation on the street.  Your input may assist them in structuring a solicitation when they have one.
  • If you can’t get in the door to see a program specialist, talk to someone in GSA’s “Office of Small Business Utilization” – they can help you open doors.

My last tip:

Find great people to work with – both customers and employees – and focus relentlessly on getting the job done – ahead of time and under budget.

Now, what have we done to get better prepared for this hurricane season? Since last summer, the GSA Office of Emergency Management has:

- Standardized emergency operating procedures. By standardizing, GSA is better prepared this year because every region, service, staff office, employee will use the same procedures in reporting and responding to disaster situations.  This will lead to better coordination and better use of GSA resources to assist FEMA in disasters situations.

- Rewritten the working agreement between FEMA and GSA. The MOA is a guideline that states exactly what support GSA can provide and the method used to provide it.  Previous MOA hadn’t been updated since 1989.

- Rewritten GSA’s Emergency Management Program Handbook. This updates GSA’s overall emergency management program, which will be used by all emergency coordinators nationally to add cohesiveness to the program.

- Participated in exercises / discussions with DHS/FEMA and our support agencies.

- GSA’s global supply is working very closely with FEMA to put in place contract vehicles and supply solutions that could be used by FEMA to support any future disasters.  One of many examples:

- Global Supply awarded a BPA to Hagemeyer to provide approximately 31,000 hardware store products for delivery within 24 hours anywhere in the 48 contiguous states.  The contract vehicle is for use only for federally-declared disasters and includes the following item categories:
- Cutting tools and abrasives
- Industrial products
- Electrical
- Safety

Perhaps most important, the last reason we’re better prepared is because our new Administrator is one who felt the impact of Katrina at a very personal level. She has made emergency preparedness a top priority, and we have heard her instructions loud and clear.

Thank you very much.