Keynote Address at DC Chamber of Commerce Breakfast
Thank you very much for this opportunity to briefly share with you the great things we at the General Services Administration are doing these days. And, more importantly, I really appreciate the chance to explore how we in government and you - the dynamic, entrepreneurial members of the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce - can better partner to the mutual benefit of this region and the federal government.
As you well know, GSA has a significant presence in this town and across the DC metro region. The federal government and the private sector intersect and often cooperate in significant ways, but there is always room to improve how we interact and cooperate. And I am determined to ensure that this happens.
I speak to you partly out of duty, a duty that I take very seriously. The GSA administrator would be remiss if she did not develop and strengthen the federal government’s relationship with chambers of commerce all across the country. I am a strong advocate for public/private partnerships, and greatly appreciate every opportunity to fortify GSA’s relationships with the business community.
But connecting with you, here in DC, transcends mere duty. As a native Washingtonian, my commitment to strengthening our relationship is also a deeply personal matter.
Growing up in Anacostia in the 1980s, in a moment of severe challenges for our city, I looked West across the river - pretty much to where we are right now - and I knew that “Important Things” were going on over here.
So, what does an ambitious kid from East of the River aspire to become? Why, Administrator of the General Services Administration, of course!
What is GSA?
I think of GSA as the backbone of the federal government, supporting our fellow agencies by providing them a massive range of goods and services, enabling them to carry out their duties and serve the public.
Our mission is to deliver the highest level of services across three core business lines:
GSA manages more than 375 million square feet of property, one of the largest and most diversified real estate portfolios in the world.
Our acquisition solutions supply federal purchasers with cost-effective, high-quality products and services from commercial vendors, like many of you. Each year, tens of billions of dollars go through GSA contracts, including more than $30 billion in the last fiscal year on the Multiple Award Schedules program.
Innovative Technology Services
GSA has always led the charge on the government technology front. We were the first agency to adopt email; first to found a tech “startup venture” within the federal government. Known as 18F this group enables agencies to rapidly deploy easy-to-use, cost-efficient and reusable digital tools, services and expertise.
While the scope of work we do is certainly vast and varied, the mission, at its essence, is simple: We serve the government and the American people. GSA is a dynamic agency, indispensable to the functioning of government, while making positive change in communities across the country.
GSA as a Catalyst for Community Economic Development
From my time as City Manager of Greensboro, North Carolina, and as vice president of governmental affairs at an economic development group, I know that the federal government can play a critical role for local and regional economic development.
By partnering with local stakeholders and regional economic development organizations, we can maximize federal investments to create an exceptional national resource. With this in mind, I recently announced a nationwide initiative to enhance GSA’s role as a catalyst for economic development in communities nationwide; proactively and strategically looking for ways to support community development goals while also promoting competition and getting better outcomes for the federal agencies that we assist.
We launched this initiative in three cities: Detroit; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Charlotte, North Carolina. So far, this effort has focused primarily on GSA’s real estate business, but we also must include our procurement prowess in our Economic Catalyst effort.
In order to optimally leverage our acquisition strength though, we have some work to do; because, right now, the government procurement landscape is fragmented. There are 500 different departments and agencies making annual purchases exceeding $400 billion, much of it in a haphazard manner and according to opaque rules and processes.
This fragmentation and lack of transparency have led agencies to establish redundant acquisition programs and other inefficiencies that drive up operating costs, needlessly wasting resources, and placing stifling burdens on the private sector, especially smaller enterprises who want to do business with government.
Small businesses account for nearly half of GSA-funded contract dollars, 80 percent of all vendors on GSA Schedules, and their success is absolutely key to our goal of stimulating economic prosperity and growth on the community and regional levels.
The Solution: Making it Easier to do Business With Government
With this in mind, several components of our economic catalyst initiative are specifically tailored to make it easier to do business with government.
This effort is grounded in three principles:
Fostering two-way communications between government and industry, leading to improved contract requirements that reflect supplier feedback.
Over the last year, our agency has had continued dialogue with industry around a wide range of issues, from adding new categories to our contract vehicles to considering major changes to new contracts.
We seek constant feedback in order to better equip our supplier community to take full advantage of their relationship with the government; and so that we, in turn, can benefit from all that you have to offer.
Our second principle is to increase support to prospective and new vendors, which allows us to continually cultivate the products and services to which the government has access.
We understand that there are two key players in the federal procurement space: the government and suppliers. We at GSA want to be proactive stewards of our relationship with industry.
We want to be an appealing place to do business, attracting new and innovative companies to think about the federal space as an exciting marketplace in which to work. We know that this is mutually beneficial, and that the government will reap the rewards of partnering with strong suppliers.
Schedule 70 Plain-Language Roadmap
In order to encourage more companies to join us, GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service and 18F are partnering to create a plain language roadmap for private sector technology vendors , an online resource that will illustrate how to obtain GSA contract in easy-to-understand steps.
Opportunities Forecasting Tool
And once we do have these new businesses engaged, we want to ensure that we can make it as easy as possible to capture the exciting work that the federal government has to offer.
To that point, in early 2016, we are rolling out our new forecasting tool which will allow businesses to research potential new opportunities by industry and region.
Our third principle involves reducing burden across the board. As we continue to seek out new and innovative companies, we need to review our internal processes to ensure we are positioned to achieve our desired results.
Two-Year Corporate Experience
One of the most often-cited barriers to doing business with government is the requirement that an enterprise have a minimum of two years corporate experience before being allowed to get on a GSA schedule. We realize that this experience requirement may prevent young, innovative suppliers from engaging with the government.
Thanks to industry feedback, we are working to adjust the language of our technology schedule so we can determine sufficiency of experience and financial standing without sticking to this inflexible requirement.
Another issue that we are addressing is the complex, lengthy process suppliers must go through to get a schedule contract. We recently launched a pilot program, called FASt Lane that will help technology vendors improve the quality of their proposals upfront and therefore reduce the time for these firms to gain access to government work.
As you may have noted, I’m a bit of a wonk. You’ve got to be a wonk to get really excited about updates to the General Services Administration Multiple Awards Schedule, right? And I know that all of this may seem deeply bureaucratic and process-oriented, but it’s also really very important.
I got into the public policy field out of a passion to foment positive change for real people in their communities. But, the higher I climbed the career ladder, the more I realized that passion, just on its own, can take you but so far. It’s when we learn to affect the often plodding, nitty gritty of policy development and implementation - the sausage making process, if you will - that’s when we are able to have a real impact.
The other great lessons I learned working in the public sector are: First, for all the hits government takes - many of them not misplaced - it really can be a tremendous force for social progress. And, secondly, if government is to realize this potential, it simply cannot do so on its own. Public-private partnerships are, without argument, absolutely necessary. This unshakable belief lies at the core of our current initiative at GSA.
Government can and must serve as a catalyst for economic progress across the country; but, in order to optimally play this role, we must reduce the barriers to doing business with government. The members of the DC Chamber are among the most driven entrepreneurs in the country, making your mark, doing business at the very center of government. I look to you as ideal partners to help implement this vision, and I hope you feel the same.
Please know that my door is always open and I welcome your brainstorms, critiques and suggestions. Thank you very much for this opportunity.