Kempf sets 'bold' vision for GSA acquisition service

Wednesday - 11/24/2010, 6:33pm EST

Steve Kempf, Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner, GSA

Click to hear Kempf's interview with WFED's Jason Miller.

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The General Services Administration's Federal Acquisition Service easily could continue to increase its revenues by 2 or 3 percent a year without doing too much differently. But to become a world-class organization and help the government meet its growing challenges, GSA FAS Commissioner Steve Kempf sees the opportunities for improvement.

"FAS has an opportunity to go where no organization has gone before," said Kempf, borrowing the opening line from the Star Trek television show of the 1960s. "We have challenges before us and the Obama administration looks at GSA as a huge asset, a tool to move the administration's objectives forward. We need to use our expertise to help our agency customers innovate more and meet their missions."

And to do that, Kempf has some specific ideas on where FAS needs to go. FAS has to build up its acquisition workforce, make it easier on both agencies and vendors to use its tools, expand its offerings and take a hard look at what isn't working and figure out why.

"Our customers' needs are changing, more about services and less about products," he said. "In the past four years, sales for logistics and financial services have almost doubled at GSA. We're looking at increasing calls for transparency ... across government contracting."

Kempf, who became FAS Commissioner in July, has been on a listening tour with GSA regional offices, agency customers and vendors over the last three months.

What he found is mostly good news. Kempf said FAS is healthy with $52 billion in overall sales, including $39 billion in sales on the schedules in 2010. This is about a $2-3 billion increase over 2009.

The governmentwide acquisition contracts, such as Millennia or Alliant, accounted for about $3 billion, while sales to state and local governments increased by 310 percent to $500 million last year.

Kempf said small businesses earned about 35 percent of all sales on the schedules, including $2.5 billion by women-owned small firms.

"We could move on and do 2 percent increase and call ourselves successful, but we've been given marching orders to do some bold things," he said. "We are reaching out to customers and industry and defining the future more aggressively."

One area FAS is moving out aggressively on is its workforce. Kempf said FAS hired 200 new employees over the last few months to fill holes in their workforce. He said they plan on adding two senior executive service positions and additional contracting officer jobs in the coming months.

"One of the things we have in our agency is we have a lot of people eligible to retire so while we hired 200 to get us to essentially where we ought to be as an organization, we were behind," Kempf said. "We will continue to have a need to hire. We had about 6,800 applicants so I think we were very successful."

Along with repopulating his staff, Kempf also said improvements to several FAS processes are on tap.

FAS will increase its Web presence by incorporating social networking tools on a new site,

"We will concentrate a lot of our blogs there and open up new ones," Kempf said. "It will be an interactive website where industry can work with industry and customers can work with customers, and information can be shared much more than we are seeing right now. That will be coming out before the end of year."

Kempf is also pushing vendors to use the Web more. For instance, by the end of 2011, vendors who want to submit new offers to get on the schedule or modify their current schedule contracts will be able to do so only online.

Kempf said 44 percent of all new offers and 57 percent of all modifications were done electronically in 2010.

Another area FAS will work on with vendors is pricing. Kempf said his office is running three pilots to test a new pricing tool on three schedules-one for services, one for products and one for both.

"One of the things our oversight people are pushing us on is to do a better job with pricing," he said. "When people are buying 10 percent of what they are buying through schedules program what we do with pricing is important and beyond that many people look at the schedules as a benchmark. We have an important role in determining fair and reasonable pricing on many government products and services."

Additionally, Kempf said the pricing tool will help contracting officers negotiate and analyze prices as they work with vendors and agency customers.