The General Services Administration’s canceling its Alliant 2 small business governmentwide acquisition contract. GSA says it’s building a “new and enhanced” small business GWAC program. Emily Murphy is Administrator at GSA.
Francis Rose: Emily, welcome, thanks for coming back on the program. What’s that new and enhanced GWAC landscape look like for small businesses in your view? What does it look like six months or a year from now, Emily?
Emily Murphy: First, thank you so much for having me, Francis. GSA has been reevaluating how our family of GWACs works. And we want to make sure the GWACs we’re putting forward meet our customer agencies’ needs and embrace all types of small businesses and give them a path to grow. So in February of this year, I met with representatives from a number of small business trade associations and discussed with them what makes for a successful small business GWAC. We realized with the Alliant 2 protest that we’re not really having success with that vehicle, that half the companies on it were no longer eligible, and the requirements were no longer meeting the customers’ needs nor were they really useful to the businesses or the agencies using them. We knew we had STARS 3 coming, which is a great opportunity for small businesses, with a $50 billion ceiling, but we’re hoping to have some industry days in the near future to talk about creating a new GWAC that really embraces innovation and small businesses with on ramps and off ramps, bring some new technologies and services, meet the needs of our customers, includes all the different varieties of socioeconomic categories, so it meets the needs of small businesses and grows our industrial base.
Francis: So one of the issues you mentioned is something I’m starting to hear from companies across the spectrum, Emily, and that’s the reference to a family of GWACs. You’re having a tremendous amount of success consolidating the schedules, making that much simpler for companies to navigate. Is there an opportunity here to do the same thing with this family of GWACs to streamline it and make it easier for companies to navigate that too?
Emily: That’s a great question, because when we look at consolidating schedules, the goal was to make it easier for customers and easier for vendors to order or offer a complete solution. With our GWACs we’re already offering a complete solution. So it doesn’t make it much easier for us to consolidate them. But we do want to be thoughtful about what we have in that family of GWACs. Right now we have got Alliant 2, VETS 2 GWAC, and the STARS 2 GWAC, and the STARS 2 GWAC has been incredibly successful; it’s broken its ceiling 3 times now, so it’s now looking at a $22 billion ceiling. When we were looking at the Alliant 2 small business, and that’s really the hole in that family, we wanted to replace it with something that was a more mature version of those requirements, but also something that reached out and, for example, embraces women-owned small businesses, and HUBZone businesses, as well as our 8(a) and vet businesses, because right now those are sort of missing in that group, and we don’t think we need to have four different GWACs to do that.
Francis: So should I look for an Alliant 3 or an Alliant 2.1 or something else to replace this or what’s coming?
Emily: Something else is coming to replace it, I don’t know that we’ve come up with a name yet, and I have learned that I am probably not the one who should come up with names for GWACs, that my skills may lie elsewhere, but we are coming up with something new that I think is going to be good because it also creates that path so that we don’t have small businesses sort of coming to a cliff and then dropping off.
Francis: So that comment indicates to me that you’ve created, at least secretly, some really terrible name for a GWAC that you don’t want to say on television, and I’m not going to press you for that, Emily.
Emily: No, we haven’t.
Francis: Oh, okay.
Emily: But I’ve spent enough years on the hill to know about retronyms, where you create the acronym and then come up with what it’s supposed to stand for afterwards, and I don’t want to do that.
Francis: Alright, fair. What else should people look for in this. When you’re going out and talking to these groups as you talked about earlier, what are they telling you you should be doing to make it simpler for them to use, that we should expect to see reflected in whatever comes next?
Emily: So one of the issues is making sure we have enough companies on those GWACs. We’ve really heard a lot about the HUBZone and women-owned small business communities. They feel that because there aren’t GWACs where agencies can reach in and try and use a GWAC to meet those goals is a real hole in our portfolio, and if you look, those are two of the goals the government as a whole has a challenge meeting. Then also making sure that if someone graduates from an 8(a) program or from a HUBZone program, that they [unintelligible] ability to move them through, and if you look at, for example, our Alliant 2 GWAC, a lot of the original 8(a), STARS companies are now successful because they were successful participants in the Alliant 2 GWAC, so we want to make sure we’ve got that path laid out so that successful businesses continue to be successful partners to GSA and our customer agencies.
Francis: Is there a number that makes sense, or will you just know it when you see it? You had 81 on Alliant 2 originally, then in the redo you were going to expand to 120, or does the number even matter, is it just whatever the conditions dictate based on the response that you get?
Emily: So I think that’s one of the reasons we want to have these industry days, and we’re planning to do some in the near future – socially distanced industry days, at that. But we want to make sure that we’re talking to businesses and/or customers in the right number. I point out STARS 2 has 787 businesses on it, so the right number is probably somewhere in between them.
Francis: Do you have a timeline in mind yet, Emily?
Emily: Our goal is to have the industry days in the next few months, trying to do it safely and recognizing that in August people tend to go on vacation. I’d love to have a draft RFP out by the end of the year. That said, I’d rather we get it right than get it out on the schedule I’m coming up with now, but I do want us to be moving forward.
Francis: You’ve referenced socially distancing a number of times during this conversation, and that portends people coming back to the office and being in gatherings – we’re going to take a look in just a moment at what you’re doing and at what other organizations are doing across government to start to come back to work.
Straight ahead on Government Matters, a look at GSA’s role when my conversation with Emily Murphy continues. You’re watching ABC7.
Welcome back. The General Services Administration has new cleaning standards for agency offices during the coronavirus, and it’s working on its own reopening strategy too. I’m back with Emily Murphy, Administrator of the General Services Administration.
Emily, I want to talk about what you’re doing to get your agency back up and running in office in just a moment, but speaking of back in office, you’re bringing somebody back in office who just left not too long ago. Tell me what’s going on there.
Emily: So, as you know, Anil Cheriyan is leaving TTS, and the good news we’ve got is that Bob DeLuca, who came in and helped us start the COE program at GSA, has agreed to come back on a detail; until we can fill the job permanently, he’s going to come back as the Acting TTS Director and the Deputy FAS Commissioner.
Francis: It feels like Bob left about 15 minutes ago; it’s actually been, what, three weeks or so that he has departed the General Services Administration – where did he go, and how’d you manage to talk him into coming back so quickly?
Emily: So, he went to FDIC to be their Deputy CIO, and he just started last week, so he I think had a full week on the job there. Bob is incredibly mission-focused, so it was not his idea to do that, but when we called him up and asked him and asked FDIC, they recognized that having a strong leader in TTS has been helping with IT modernization, AI and, frankly, helping with COVID response across the government.
Francis: Is Bob in that position permanently, or is he holding that position down for you until you find a candidate, and then he will go back to FDIC, Emily?
Emily: He is going to be on a detail in that position until we find a permanent director. But we wanted to make sure there wasn’t a leadership vacuum in TTS in the interim. And I think with Harry Lee and Dominic Sale it is going to be a great leadership team in TTS, right on course.
Francis: So you are starting to bring not just Bob DeLuca back to the office, but other employees, both in DC and across the country, back to the office as a result of the pandemic response. What are you doing internally and how are you working with other agencies in the buildings that you manage and lease for them to get agencies back up to speed?
Emily: So as agencies return to facilities, GSA has always prioritized making our customer agencies successful and providing them with the resources they need. We actually waited to go to Phase 1 in NCR and … this July 21st, so on Tuesday we’ll be coming back into the office. But we’ve been working instead with the agencies to make sure that their leases are modified, that their operating agreements are modified so they’ve got the right cleaning solutions, that they’re getting things like hand sanitizer, we’ve identified people who make partitions, that you can go in and quickly modify space with, but we’re also having conversations with agencies about how they look at their space going forward. For those agencies where telework has been a good fit, we’re actually working with them on whether or not, looking forward, they want to readjust their footprint, and how they want to balance out the use of space and the use of technology.
Francis: That’s the thing that I’m most interested in out of all of this stuff that’s happened as a result of the pandemic, Emily, is what does the federal footprint look like two years from now, five years from now – there’s all kinds of possibilities that people are talking about, the possibility that I might be eligible to retire and I’ve discovered I really like being at home, so either I’m going to ask to telework for the rest of my tenure in government, or I’m just going to retire tomorrow. There’s all kinds of possibilities out there. How are you managing, how are you thinking about what could happen in the next six months, year, two years, to develop a strategy when things are as fluid as they are right now?
Emily: So, first we are looking internally, and telework at GSA has always been function- and mission-specific. So it’s a question of where does telework work well. Telework doesn’t work well if you’re doing classified work. It doesn’t work well when you’re doing customer-facing work, or public-facing work, but it works well on a lot of our activities, and we’ve been at about 95-96% of our employees teleworking, and we haven’t missed a beat in getting the work done. So within GSA we’re looking at this as an opportunity to look at Phase 3 to expand telework and make it more available for employees. Now, each agency’s going to have a different answer to what that right balance is, so we’re also there to help them figure out their space, and how they’re going to balance it out. Again, within GSA, we’ve been meeting with private sector groups, we met with GAO, we asked how they balance out telework and how they’re managing it, and try to make sure you keep the culture and best practices are, but in any case it’s going to be a very specific, agency-by-agency decision, and they’ve got to decide what’s best for them, but GSA’s there to help them understand what the possibilities are, and then help make sure we rent space and technologies to enable the vision they’ve got for their future.
Francis: And you kind of answered there where I wanted to go next, which is, what’s GSA’s role potentially as just a broker in thought leadership in what that looks like. Patent and Trademark Office has had a lot of success with remote work environments over the years and it strikes me that there’s a sweet spot there for GSA to be able to go out, know all this stuff and be able to help an agency answer their questions in one spot.
Emily: And we have a total workplace solutions group, that actually really is partnering with, and that’s within the Public Building Service, and we also then have our Integrated Workforce Acquisitions Center within the Federal Acquisition Service, and we’ve been bringing the two of them together to be able to offer a wide range of solutions for our customer agencies.
Francis: Emily Murphy, thanks for the great conversation this morning. I appreciate your time.
Emily: It’s always great to be with you, Francis.