Tuesday, April 26, 2005

I Love GSA! (Screw You, Taxpayer!)

Someone in the building I work in just came down with Legionnaire's Disease. Of course, this sparked some degree of panic and we were informed by the local authorities (GSA, the General Services Administration), that this disease is only contracted through inhaling contaminated water. Of course, what they failed to mention is that it often happens through building ventilation systems. Really encouraging.

I bring this up to illustrate a point. I work in a government building, built by GSA, and it is terrible. It is like an old high school in layout and design, and the internal temperature is a scorching 85 degrees in the winter (and all months the heat is activated), and 55 degrees in the summer (or now, in all months the air conditioning is activated). You may think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. I have a thermometer. The point I'm illustrating is that GSA, who builds all government buildings and serves as the landlord, supply clerk, and contract creator for the Federal government, is terrible and an aggrevious abuser of federal government, and accordingly, taxpayer dollars. In short, I propose the GSA be renamed Generally Stupid Assclownery. This year they are expected to drop 24 BILLION DOLLARS, if you examine their FY 2006 requested budget. This is from a combination of Congressional Appropriations, and fees collected from other agencies, or, to be real, Other People's Congressional Appropriations.

Some info on GSA fees. GSA is a monopoly when it comes to the following: fleet management, building, and leasing. Basically, whenever a federal agency wants to do any of those things, they are forced to get the services through GSA, and pay GSA a fee on them (usually between .5 and 3%, depending on the service). Also, all telecommunications to federal buildings are also a GSA monopoly. One might argue it makes sense to pay GSA a fee for its services, and having other people do these in other government agencies would be redundant cost. Of course, that's baloney, because GSA has a monopoly and will never be challenged in any of those categories. Also, they're not good at the job. While no one has actually crunched these numbers, anecdotal evidence (talking to other people you share a commercial building with), suggests that the leasing fee GSA charges agencies to operate in commercial buildings GSA hasn't built is astronomically high and completely unreflective of the market. And it has a fee on top of it too.

In addition, GSA has the dreaded Federal Supply Schedules. Whenever you want to get a contract or service, you have to go through FSS, which are pre-negotiated contracts, unless you write a several page memo explaining why you aren't and also explaining why it wouldn't be advantageous to go through FSS. Usually these pre-negotiated vehicles have crappy terms and conditions (though the pricing is good), that can screw you over. Also, you have no flexibility in incentivizing or setting up your contract. And, of course, GSA gets a .75% fee from everything purchased under these contracts. These contracts are totally unpoliced, hence why the Department of the Interior was able to purchase prison translators and interrogators for DOD under an IT Federal Supply Schedule. That's just one horror story among hundreds. Part of the reason why GSA has a new program called "Get It Right!" Because, of course, they can't get it right. That, and GSA Administrator had the nerve to suggest (there are witnesses, but it doesn't appear in the transcript), that ALL contracting be done through GSA. I guess the level of incompetence and exorbitant fees that are already there aren't enough, and I guess we should have people even further detached from the needs of government programs deciding what they actually need.

In short, GSA is a giant parasite, that Congress and the President have ordered all agencies to kindly allow to burrow deep into their rear ends. As long as they are in charge, no agency will be free to actually negotiate the terms of their own leases on the commercial marketplace (and get better prices), or get a large variety of services customized to their own needs from the commercial marketplace. Or have any incentive to get out of crappy buildings. GSA is a giant landlord, and it's a company store, and worst of all it's the most cartoonish and incredulous version of both. A chunk of every dollar of appropriated money goes to feed the beast, and the government would be better off, and agencies freed from expensive chains, without it.