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Administrator Doan Addresses National Contract Management Association

As prepared for delivery

Remarks By
Lurita Alexis Doan
Administrator
U.S. General Services Administration
National Contract Management Association
25th Annual Government Contract Management Conference
Tysons Corner, VA
December 4, 2006


What makes a king out of a slave? What makes the flag on the mast post wave? What makes a hot and tot so hot? Who put the Ape in Apricot? What makes an elephant charge his tusk through the misty mist and the dusky dusk? 

In the Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion asked Dorothy all of these strange questions and the answer was always the same. ... COURAGE! 

I am delighted to have the opportunity to kickoff this conference and just like the Cowardly Lion, who we all know is not really a coward in the end, I am going to be asking a bunch of questions that all have the same answer… Courage!

This conference brings together the most senior contract managers in the government at a most important time in our history. We all know that it is time to think anew. Our federal procurement system needs fundamental improvement. And although most contractors are honest and forthright, some are not and I am determined to make GSA the most trusted contracting arm of the government. We must ensure that the tens of billions of dollars in contracts that GSA awards each year are awarded in the best interest of the American taxpayer. But, right now the taxpayers are not getting full value for their money. We have inefficient processes that all need to be improved.

Small business leaders are groaning under the strain and burden of being forced to hire legions of accountants, lawyers, advisors and so on in order to have a chance to compete for a government contract. Americans from around the nation believe our procurement system is not transparent and are convinced that taxpayers are always being ripped off. Listen harder still and you will hear the large collective groan from our contract officers, who are being forced to navigate increasingly numbing levels of bureaucracy in order to process a simple purchase order. 

The time for improvement is now. And we, all of us, here today, must assume the primary responsibility. And the Question, my friends, is do we have the Courage?

Ours is not an easy task….You can expect to be criticized, your positive efforts will be misconstrued, and let me tell you from my experience gained over the last 96 hours -- cutting wasteful spending, even by a small amount is not an easy task.

I was confirmed as the Administrator 5 months ago. GSA had just experienced one of its worst years in its history. Customers were leaving, our budget was a mess and we’d flunked our audit. Morale was at an all time low and our annual revenues had plunged by over $4.5 billion/year.

I think you have all seen that in 5 months, things have dramatically improved. We had the courage to face our most pressing problems.

First, we confronted our budget problems and went line by line down our budget. Wasteful programs and poorly performing programs were cut. Not cut back. Cut. That saved us $250 million a year. Morale started to improve. No one knew better than our employees that we could improve our operations and save taxpayer money. Each division was asked to look at their own efforts and internal budget to find ways to cut wasteful spending and improve our efforts. We cut spending by 9%. And it worked. We got lots of ideas from throughout GSA and moved quickly to implement the best. By moving quickly and decisively, we not only trimmed our budget and gave our employees the Courage to release their own entrepreneurial energies, but far more importantly, we showed small businesses around the country that GSA was again America’s premier contracting agency. And we just got a clean audit too!

One of the many things I learned in the private sector, is that there is no successful business in America that is complacent. Every successful business is working hard to improve every operation, every day. Think about some of the best companies: you can be very sure that Wal-Mart is working even as we speak to improve their supply chain operations, even though it is widely known that they have the best system in the world. You can also bet that tech companies like Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle are investing greater amounts in R&D to improve their products.-- products which are already the envy of the world and the gold standard of technology. These companies all know that when you get complacent and you no longer believe that you must improve, you begin to die. 

I am quite proud of the fact that GSA is moving boldly and with great courage to improve every one of our operations. Every division is working to cut costs and improve efficiencies and you are beginning to see the results. GSA Schedules, that once took over 150 days to receive, are now being issued in much less time and we will not rest until a basic GSA schedule can be awarded in 30 days (hopefully by the end of the year) and done right. We are taking better care of our customers, removing needless bureaucratic hurdles and saving money for the American taxpayer. We have also had the courage to point out the obvious redundant and overlapping myriad of contract vehicles that do nothing but duplicate existing GSA services.

Now let me frankly admit two things you do not know.

First, it has not been easy. Not everyone is eager for change. Some are wedded to old inefficiencies, protecting turf, and seeing no need to cut costs, much less reduce the yearly increases. 

Let me be even more specific: one of my divisions within GSA, the office of the IG, has argued that it was not possible to keep his increases below 30%. I wish I could have gotten an automatic 30% increase in my businesses budget every year. What about you?

Here, the situation was a bit more complicated because the IG has enormous power and past Administrators were unwilling to apply common sense budgetary discipline to an office that had the power and responsibility to conduct investigations. 

But GSA will be the most compliant and transparent it has ever been under my watch regardless of the accusations. The IG is an important part of this effort, and I support increasing his budget to provide the oversight we need. But resources aren’t endless.

Our problem at GSA was further compounded by the fact that the OIG, over the past couple of years, has received supplemental funding from GSA’s operations of around $5 million for pre-award audits above and beyond the increased funding that was directly appropriated by Congress. We need to continue these pre-award audits and determine the most efficient manner. 

A few months ago, I asked all of GSA’s offices and regions to submit their budgets to me. I asked everyone to tighten their belts and do more with less. I supported the OIG’s request for a higher increase in their budget than anyone else, but when I suggested they live within their increased appropriated dollars and no longer depend upon subsidies from FAS to run their daily operations, because FAS was newly organized and trying to run in the black. Well, as most of you must know, that landed me in some real, hot water.

The Washington Post reports that the IG says I am “cutting audits and oversights.” Well, I am not a Washington political insider, this is actually my first time in public service, but I have learned that this is an old, Washington two-step that has been around for a long time. When any agency is threatened with the possibility of a budgetary cut or even a lower increase, they often find the most offensive and important program and offer it up as the sacrificial lamb. 

There are almost always other options and usually many creative ways that could be found to rein in spending and actually improve operations, such as travel or computer equipment. Key programs, like legitimate audits and reviews, can always be preserved while attention is directed at other low priority and non performing programs that are legitimate targets for improvements and cuts.

And so I tell you, from experience that the road forward is a difficult one. It will not be easy to make the changes to our procurement system that are so badly needed. Cutting any wasteful spending is going to always be misconstrued in the worst, possible way. 

Let me give you just one more example of “what can go wrong’? A couple of days ago, I learned the unfortunate news that an employee of GSA, who was (formerly) assigned to the OIG, had been arrested for assault. My concern was that someone in an obvious position of power was perhaps using that position to create a hostile work environment and terrorize employees. That concern, shared in a private meeting, was also misrepresented to the Press.

But, let me share with you the most important point that I hope will guide your efforts over the next few days. You can expect, and you can count on, the fact that GSA has the courage to press forward.

We are going to continue to make some folks uneasy with our transparency, with our insistence upon accountability and our integrity in delivering value to the American taxpayer. 

I truly believe that one person can make a difference. I truly believe that we can, each and every one of us, make the federal procurement system better if we only have the courage to try.

In this quest, I have many advantages that others do not. When I was 7 years old, I was the first black to integrate the private school system in New Orleans. I am used to angry words, and even thrown bricks, from those that, for all the wrong reasons, hope to cling to the stale past. And let me tell you, 3rd grade girls are a lot tougher than you know! 

Growing up in New Orleans gave me another great advantage. During Hurricane Betsy, my father knocked a big hole in our roof with a sledgehammer, so we could all get out of the water. He tied ropes around our waists and tied us to the roof beams so that the wind and rain couldn’t blow us away. And for several days we sat up on the roof and waited to be rescued by the National Guard and watched as everything floated away. That taught me that even when things look bad, you have to have the courage to keep the faith, in yourself and in others, and never, ever give up.

Those are lessons that I have learned well.

Washington, DC is a long way from the streets of New Orleans. I didn’t grow up surrounded by a lot of high priced trial lawyers who have all the right fancy words, so maybe I should pick and choose my words more carefully. But, let me be as clear as a summer day.

I will be making the contracting process better and ensuring other large and small, minority, and veteran owned, women owned, HUBZone and 8(a) businesses can live the American dream as I did, but for those of you who don’t play be the rules, and try to stick it to the American taxpayer, I will be doing everything in my power to track you down and bring justice for the American taxpayer.

And so, I would like to conclude, much as I began, with a question that you already know that answer to. 

The question is: What can you expect from GSA? 
All together now. … COURAGE!