GSA changes plans, will keep service schedules open after all

Thursday - 8/28/2014, 4:17am EDT

Listen to Jason Miller's interview with Tiffany Hixson.

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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.

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."