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Much Work Needed At GSA, Former Exec Says

A former assistant commissioner says the General Services Administration has 'neglected customers' in past few years and needs to take steps to correct the problem.

The General Services Administration (GSA) has a long road ahead for restoring customer confidence, according to Neal Fox, former assistant commissioner for commercial acquisition at the GSA. During a keynote at Ingram Micro's GovEd Alliance conference in Palm Springs, Calif., Fox also warned, however, that working directly with the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) won't be a cakewalk for the industry either.

The GSA has had a tough run recently, with growth in IT sales through GSA Schedules dipping from 17 percent in 2001 to 1 percent in 2004. "There's something happening that's causing growth to slow," Fox said. "[GSA] needs to take a look at that, and will. We've neglected the customer in the last couple of years and we need to do something to regain confidence."

Much of the slowed growth can be attributed to DoD's decision to handle the bulk of its purchasing internally. As a result, civil agencies and defense agencies are pretty evenly split in the amount of purchasing done through GSA Schedules--a big change from the days when the DoD dominated. "The decrease in growth mainly has to do with the DoD side of the equation," Fox said. "GSA could turn things around in the next year, but it will be thanks to civil agencies."

Fox didn't say how GSA would go about turning things around specifically. And while not staging a departure quite as significant as that of DoD, the DHS' own internal buying program, First Source, will certainly result in decreased use of GSA Schedules, Fox said. He warned solution providers, however, that the alternatives offered by individual agencies and departments may prove a challenge in some ways.

"All of these [defense locations] are kept very secure. That makes it tough to deal with and market to them," he said. "[And] DHS just doesn't have the wherewithal to manage everything it has to deal with right now. With all the media attention that came from Katrina, that's where the department is focusing."

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