GSA Administrator: ‘We’re Costco on Steroids’

As budgets continue to tighten, the General Services Administration is getting more organizations – from major federal agencies down to local municipalities – coming to them looking for help in getting more for less, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson said.

Speaking at the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing Annual Conference and Expo in Prince George, Md., Johnson said over the past two months, the demand for GSA expertise has increased especially in areas like asset management and efficiency improvements everywhere from workspaces to information technology consulting.

And that’s even before GSA, which Johnson called “Costco on steroids, begins to leverage its bulk purchasing power more than ever before.

From Johnson’s speech:


I’m here to tell you that we’re here to help.

GSA partners with state and local governments in several different ways and through a variety of channels. One example is our Computers for Learning Program. GSA is responsible for disposing of 10,000 computers – every week. But they’re often only 3 years old, and still have a long useable life ahead of them. That’s why we work with schools across the country to match our nation’s classrooms with the federal government’s gently used information technology hardware. It makes sense for the government; it makes sense for the schools; and it brings a world of knowledge to our children’s classrooms.

Another example is our Wildland Fire Program. Through this arrangement, GSA leverages the federal spend to bring firefighting equipment to wildfires – fast.  During the California lightning fire of 2008, when more than a million acres of wilderness was burning, GSA staff worked around the clock to distribute more than $20 million in supplies to federal, state, and local fire departments. And they did it swiftly, understanding that when fire threatens people and property, there’s no time to waste. By bringing high quality goods to the front at better-than-market price under tight deadline, GSA’s Wildland Fire Program has proven its value time and again.

And on a broader level, GSA also helps state and local governments by providing access to a selection of our schedules – the prenegotiated catalog of supplies and services that we offer to federal agencies. By leveraging our vast river of consumption, totaling about $95 billion a year, GSA’s purchasing power passes dramatic savings on to our customers.  It’s like CostCo on steroids.

Currently available to state and local governments are Schedule 70 and Schedule 84 – for IT and for law enforcement. Additionally, a disaster recovery program lets governments purchase supplies off of the rest of the schedules. Through these cooperative purchasing arrangements, customers tap into the buying power of the federal government, and realize serious savings.
Between 2002 and 2007, Colorado and Nevada agencies saved more than $11.5 million through the disaster preparedness schedule.

Kansas officials purchased 50 new police cars at an average cost savings of $3,000 each, saving $150,000 as they update their police fleet.

And California officials purchased five infrared camera systems for $900,000 – a savings of $430,000 over retail price.

Johnson also mentioned the government’s move to cloud computing and the impacts it will have:

Every year, the federal government spends about $80 billion on IT, yet a gap remains between our IT capacity and that of the private sector.

President Barack Obama has challenged federal agencies across government to close this gap by identifying and migrating three IT capabilities to the cloud within 18 months.

Already, 15 agencies have identified nearly 1 million email boxes across 100 email systems that are going to move to the cloud. GSA is one of those agencies. In June, GSA switched to Google’s cloud-based platform, a move that we expect to save us more than $15 million in the next five years.

Since we’ve transitioned, we’ve seen the real advantages of the cloud – budgetary boosts, new productivity ,and collaboration capabilities – and we’re uncovering some tremendous lessons. In the process of preparing for Hurricane Irene, our new capabilities increased our efficiency and communications enormously.

But what we’ve also seen is that cloud options can help government at all levels, and that, in many respects, states are leading the pack.

Why? Because states understand the value proposition of cloud-based systems. They know that a dispersed government is a secure government, better able to handle disasters and shutdowns. They understand the economic sense of consolidation and shared resources across departments, and they know all too well the need for seamless interoperability.

Last wee, I was in Vermont attending a cloud computing round-table with the state’s chief information officers. It was fascinating. I heard about their cloud systems and the challenges states face in rationalizing and consolidating their IT infrastructure.

To help face down those challenges, GSA is offering a line of prescreened, prenegotiated storage, computing, and Web hosting services available through our IT Schedule 70. These offerings provide rapid, elastic, and customizable scaling of services that can be adjusted based on need and use. They drive down costs while boosting productivity; they let government move past the treading water stage of investing in current infrastructure and launch us into the next chapter. They’re good value; they’re the way of the future; and they’re essential to a 21st century government.

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