GSA FAS Focus and the IAE

June 17, 2021 U.S. General Services Administration Season 1 Episode 9
GSA FAS Focus and the IAE
Show Notes Transcript

This weeks guest is Judith Zawatsky - GSA’s assistant commissioner for the office of Systems Management in the Federal Acquisition Service. Judith is responsible for leading the agency’s effort to simplify and modernize all the FAS systems and oversees the operation of the government-wide federal award systems.  Which means you’ll get the scoop on what’s new with

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[ Music ] >> Welcome to GSA FAS Focus, a look at what is happening in and around the US General Services Administration's Federal Acquisition Service. I'm Joan Kornblith, and my guest today is Judith Zawatsky, GSA's assistant commissioner for the Office of Systems Management in the Federal Acquisition Service. Which means she is the one with the really heavy lift. Judith is responsible for leading the agency's effort to simplify and modernize all of the FAS systems. And if that is not enough, she also oversees the operation of the government-wide federal award systems. Which means you will be getting the scoop on what is new with and what is next. And speaking of what's next, what are the goals of GSA's Integrated Award Environment? Judith knows. We will also run down some of the webinars and CLP opportunities coming up in the next couple of weeks, and later, put a few fascinating facts in FAS Focus. Welcome back to FAS Focus, a look at what is happening throughout GSA's Federal Acquisition Service. I'm Joan Kornblith. And, please, if you have not done so yet, click on that button and subscribe to this podcast. That way you will get a reminder and a quick link every time there is a new episode of FAS Focus. No more hunting around for the latest episode. In just a couple of minutes, I will be talking with Judith Zawatsky about her role as GSA's assistant commissioner for the Office of Systems Management (or OSM). But first, what do you know about market research? Are you interested in learning more? Good, because our Market Research as a Service (or MRAS) team wants to teach you about affective market research. Their next virtual training session is coming up from 2 to 3 PM Eastern on Wednesday, June 30. This course is really market research soup to nuts. You're going to learn why market research is important, when and how to conduct market research, the regulatory nature of FAR Part 10, and how it all ties in to other decisions such as acquisition planning. They will also touch on small business set-asides, commercial items, contract type selection, and how to get better results by making your data collection methods easier. And here's one more reason to sign up for this course as opposed to any other: it will use real-life scenarios and examples from GSA's market research initiatives, tools, and experts. Plus, this is a one CLP credit course. What other incentives do you need? Sign up now for effective market research using MRAS (Market Research as a Service) Wednesday, June 30 from 2 to 3 PM Eastern. More info available at The date again, Wednesday, June 30, everything begins at 2 PM Eastern, that is 11 Pacific. So no super early morning start unless you are summering in Seoul where it is 3 AM. Welcome back to FAS Focus, a look at what's happening in and around GSA's Federal Acquisition Service. I'm Joan Kornblith, and today I'm joined by Judith Zawatsky, GSA's assistant commissioner for the Office of Systems Management (or OSM). Welcome to the show, Judith. >> Hi, Joan. So glad you could have me today. >> Oh, wonderful to have you here. I said at the top of the show that you're the one with all the easy jobs, responsible for leading the agency's effort to simplify and modernize all of the FAS systems, and you're overseeing the operation of the government-wide federal award systems. But you've also held the positions of FAS chief of staff and director of the Multiple Award Schedule Transformation Project Management Office. And you also had an entire career in the outside world working as a commercial consultant in government-wide contracting before joining GSA. So I think that it is safe to say that you're pretty well-versed in the ins and the outs of federal acquisition. What attracted you to all this stuff in the first place? Are you a policy nerd? >> I am a policy nerd, yeah. I am unabashedly a nerd. And I like to say that I like to live at that corner where policy, process, and technology all come together. And so it's a scary little corner. But I feel like I can make such a fundamental difference for users and the taxpayers and the American public as well as my own colleagues. So it's a nerdy but great place to be. >> So before we go any further, how did you get to GSA? Did you wake up one day and say, I want to see how and where the sausage is made? >> No, I absolute did not. Actually, I grew up right outside the beltway in Silver Spring, Maryland, and never considered even thought about, like was outside the scope of my eyes, a job in federal service. I don't how that is because I grew up right here, but I didn't, and I, you know, worked as an accountant. And I think really what happened was, in DC, if you work for contracting firms or whatnot, you just -- the government and working with the government is fundamental, right. There's very few firms that don't. And so I actually started with the PBS side of the house and not the Federal Acquisition Service. My client was the Public Buildings Service. And I had an opportunity to work as a consultant on security concerns after the Murrah Building bombing and after the World Trade Center bombing. And worked with PBS and the Department of Justice on those. So that was my first taste of public service. And then I got involved in the Multiple Award Schedule as a consultant on the outside, helping vendors and industry get and manage their contracts. And I was pretty vocal about it, some of the issues that existed in doing so. And actually, Jeff Koses brought me to GSA. He kind of said to me, hey, if you're going to complain about our processes, how about coming, helping us? And that was the first time I really I thought about coming. And I did come, I came as a term employee to work on the Multiple Award Schedules processes, not the technology at that time but on the processes. And I really fell in love with GSA. I fell in love with my colleagues. I fell in love with the mission. I fell in love with just the way we work and the culture, and took opportunity to apply for a career competitive position and transitioned into the government, I've been here ever since. >> You just touched on two things that we have heard from many people who have been on the show. One is that the culture attracted them, and the other is the six degrees of Jeff Koses. Which is something we need to explore one day. Because I think really we're going to find out when we peel the onion to its depth, that everything does revolve around Jeff Koses here, no matter where you work in the agency. >> I often blame him when -- I will call him and say, this is your fault. And he laughs and then moves on. >> Well, we have been billing this show as a chance to talk about all the changes with, and we will get to that. But let's talk a bit about its place in the chain. SAM is one part of what's known as GSA's integrated award environment. And people may be familiar with the abbreviation IAE. What is the IAE all about and how does it fit in the federal awards lifecycle? >> So the integrated award environment is an offshoot of an E-GOV initiative, it actually is an E-GOV initiative. And if you go all the way back and think about the hundreds of thousands of entities -- when I say "entities," I really just mean companies or organizations -- that want to do business with the US government, and that can be in terms of procurement -- get a contract with or be a subcontractor to a contactor -- or organizations that want financial assistance from the US government. So even states and colleges and the local police department and fire stations. So hundreds of thousands of these organizations, and really that meant for every agency and every opportunity, doing it separately. So the integrated award environment is where the US government came together and said, let's do something together. Let's actually reduce the burden. Let's actually make it easier for people to work with the government. And, quite frankly, for the US government to be able to track who's doing business with the government. Understand who's doing business with the government. And where the money went, right. You want to always have the end in sight. Get the money out but also be able to know where it went and for what purposes. And so that was the birth of the integrated award environment. The first was to bring a set of systems together rather than every agency having their own. So that's the initial, that was handled many years ago. And then about a decade ago, let's say, the decision was, hey, can we create a single ecosystem instead of stand-alone systems? Like we went from every agency having systems to 10 systems, to now let's create an ecosystem that gives a federal employee one place to go and gives an entity company one place to go. And so that's the journey we are on right now. That's everything from past performance to seeking opportunities to posting opportunities to tracking where procurement spent has gone to understanding who is registered to do business with the US government, that entire universe. And GSA is very lucky, so to speak, to be the managing partner. That's our PMO for this on behalf of the US government. >> You make it sound so simple. >> Well, at the end of the day, it really is. The technology is hard. The policy is hard. Marrying the technology and the policy to make sure that the outcomes are correct, that can be difficult. And it's a huge handshake across government. But the vision is very simple. >> And this is something, I would presume, that is constantly evolving. >> Correct. So it is evolving, you know, the best laid plans and then new initiatives come in, very importantly. You know, the administration changed and we have a lot of work to do to help the economy, the overall economy, recover, as well as the financial state of all of the companies that make up that economy. And so we play a very large role in helping that money get out for that purpose. And then we are very focused also on the Made in America EO and helping to ensure that we have a very large role in supply chain risk management, fraud mitigation. We really, you know, 360 degrees do more than what you see on the outside but really on the inside of the guts, help the US government with doing business with entities. >> I'm Joan Kornblith. You're listening to GSA FAS Focus. By the way, if you have not subscribed to our podcast yet, please do so. It's just a quick click, and it'll make everybody happy. If you've got questions about anything you're hearing today, or someone you'd like to hear featured on this program, just send us a note. The email address is That is Today we are talking with Judith Zawatsky, GSA's assistant commissioner for the Office of Systems Management (or OSM). Okay, okay, I know that everyone wants to hear your take on the recent integration of beta SAM and But could you give us a little more background first? What's the history of SAM? I know it's had an interesting development cycle, to say the least. >> Yeah. Yeah, SAM started out as two separate systems going way, way back if you think of central contract. But, you know, for those listening -- I don't know who's listening, but for those listening, in the old days, we certainly had the central contractor registration and we had ORCA -- which is where reps and CERTS went in. And we had a whole nother system where you looked at exclusions, think about who's suspended or disbarred from doing business with the US government. So SAM itself was the original sort of modernization of bringing together a set of systems. And I would call them now capabilities, right. I don't really talk in terms of systems, but I really talk in terms of capabilities. So the systems reward management, at its most fundamental, is understanding who wants to do business with the US government, authenticating them, validating them, knowing that they are who they say they are -- which is really important when you think about the supply chain and you think about fraud mitigation and things like that, we really get down to it. Also understanding that that entity is not suspended or debarred from doing business, and if they are for what purposes, as well as creating a single place where they can provide information to the US government, and essentially one and done. So the no longer filling out forms for every contracting officer with whom they want to do business. They're actually putting in their reps and CERTS in one place. Contracting officer can go take a look at them, or on the financial system side, likewise. And really reducing that burden down to one place to make it easier. And that's really the whole purpose. >> So the real reason that we need something like is the one and done and to make it easier? >> Absolutely. >> Well, that makes it simple. >> There you go. Easy peesy, you're done. >> Yeah. I was expecting this long, long heavy-duty drawn-out answer. But it's really to make it easier to work with government. >> Yeah. So let's be clear. You know, compliance can be hard. There's a lot of legalese, and companies should really understand what they're signing up for when they do business with the government and they should really understand whether not they can rise up to meet an opportunity and deliver. But the real purpose of SAM and the entire IEE ecosystem is to give a single place for both the federal officials and the private sector to come together in that compliance metric and work together. >> It's so logical. I'm Joan Kornblith. You're listening to FAS Focus in the US General Services Administration. I'm talking with Judith Zawatsky, the assistant commissioner for GSA's Office of Systems Management (or OSM). And if I only had a drumroll, it is now time for what everyone's been waiting to hear about: the recent integration of beta SAM and Now that you've had a little time to assess things, how do you think it went? Was it successful? >> Oh, by every metric I think it was successful. And I, trust me, am looking at a lot of metrics and a lot of numbers. It really was. Really when you think about what happened, first of all, is we were able to migrate more than 700,000 users from one system to the other and everything about them, including more than 2 million roles associated with them. So that role is whether or not they're allowed to update their registration or whether or not they're allowed to look at something. And in doing that we created a workspace that those users can then create their own experience with all of these things. So very, very successful from a technical perspective. From a user perspective, it was a multi-year effort. We had focus groups. We had a feedback mechanism that we had more than 35,000 pieces of individual feedback. We ran testing groups. We worked with the private sector, the users. We worked with the public sector users, to create this. And even just the landing page, Joan, there were more than 30 iterations of that landing page that people played with and experienced to let us know if that was working for them. And so I'm very, very excited that experience is now there for everyone. We took a look -- because I'm a curious individual -- to see after we did the migration, who was the first entity to go through after the migration. So we had two that I looked at. The first was public sector. The very first new registration in SAM was a small town in Ohio that registered for financial assistance. So if there are American Rescue Plan Act funds available, they are now able to get that. And that happened very, very quickly. So that's exciting. From an entity, from the private sector, it turned out it was a small minority-owned Hispanic business that was able to update its registration for both procurement and financial assistance. And they actually snuck into the system before the Monday morning launch -- Sunday when it was live but we didn't tell anyone it was live. And by Monday, their registration was updated. So that's very exciting. To me that says that was a success. This small company, this minority-owned company, is set to be able to receive financial assistance and compete for contracts. And to me that's the measure of success. >> That's incredible. I mean, first of all, that you can check all these things, but secondly, that people were so excited that they were in on things before the official announcement, and that everything ran smoothly. >> Yeah. I mean, am I going to tell you that there were no hiccups? There were hiccups. But what was really good was that the team for the integrated award environment -- which is made up both of members of the Federal Acquisition Service and our key colleagues in GSA IT -- they were positioned in place. We had worked out scenarios in advance. And so as the hiccups occurred, they worked, quite frankly, through the night to, you know, look for solutions to those hiccups and make sure that it was running smooth by morning time. So they did incredible, without a lot of sleep. >> What's next in the life of >> So a few things. We are very, very focused right now on Made in America and ensuring that that priority is met. We're very focused on the American Rescue Plan and ensuring that grantees who are eligible for grant money are able to apply and get that. And we do partner with all of the agencies who have responsibility for those grant programs. That's very important for us. Also, in the short-term focus, the US government has for many years used the DUNS number and all of the validation behind that DUNS number as the source of truth of who an entity is. We call that entity validation services. And we are very focused on updating that and rolling out the unique identity identifier that is issued by SAM, and government-run and government-owned. And if an entity were to go into their SAM registration right now since the modernization last month, they can now see their unique entity identifier number so they can get used to it. But it doesn't become official until April 2022. So we are working with all of the interfacing systems. When you think about it, we're a set of systems, but really there are hundreds of systems across government, both at the federal level and the state-wide local levels, to make sure that they are ready to consume that. So that's our real focus in the near future. >> So one more question for you and then we'll let you go. If somebody needs assistance or just wants to provide feedback to you, how can they get involved? >> We love people to get involved. So there's a couple of ways they can. We have a feedback button on And we read every piece of feedback. That feedback goes into our funnel and it is reviewed to determine if there's something that's not working or it's just a recommendation and it gets organized according to the right thing. So absolutely use the feedback button. We have a very active site at Interact, GSA's Interact. And we do here, we publish blogs on that Interact all the time. We publish opportunities for testers to come in and participate in the process with us, even to help us in focus groups. And then, of course, if you need assistance, like direct assistance -- please, I'm trying to do something and I can't figure out how to do it -- we have the Federal Service Desk. That's FSD (Federal Service Desk) .gov. But you also can access it now right through SAM. So we've integrated that into SAM. So if you're at SAM, you can get directly to the helpdesk. You can get lots of knowledge articles on how to do things. You can look things up. You can chat with an assistant, or you can make a phone call. >> Whatever they need, whatever they want to provide, you'll get them covered. >> Yes, ma'am. >> Make it easy, make it easy. Just go to the site, that's the easiest way. Click. >> Click on feedback, or click on, you know, you need assistance, and we promise to listen to you. >> Sounds wonderful. Thank you, Judith. We've been talking with Judith Zawatsky, the assistant commissioner for GSA's Office of Systems Management (or OSM). If you have any questions for Judith or would like to learn more about anything that we've been talking about today or you just want to drop us a line, the address is And please, I hope you have clicked to subscribe to this podcast. You haven't, do it now. We'll wait. Coming up, news of another great training opportunity and some fascinating FAS facts. I'm Joan Kornblith, and you're listening to GSA FAS Focus. Welcome back to FAS Focus, a look at what is happening throughout GSA's Federal Acquisition Service. I am Joan Kornblith. And as always, we have got a full plate of FAS specific webinars and trainings coming up. I am joined now by our producer Max Stempora, who is here with information about another training specifically for folks interested in what? >> That would be BPAs (or blanket purchase agreements). You know, those agreements established by a government buyer with a scheduled contractor to fill repetitive needs for supplies or services. >> Right, BPAs. Tell me more, tell me more. >> Sure thing, Joan. There's a webinar coming up on Tuesday, June 22 devoted to GSA schedules, BPAs, and how to use them. For those not familiar with BPAs, a GSA schedule blanket purchase agreement (or BPA) is an agreement established by a government buyer with a schedule contractor to fill repetitive needs for supplies or services. In this course, you will learn how BPAs leverage an ordering activity's buying power by taking advantage of quantity discounts, saving administrative time, and reducing paperwork. This is a two CLP credit course. Visit to sign up and learn more. >> And I will take it from here. Again, this webinar is scheduled for 1 PM until 3 PM Eastern Tuesday, June 22. That is noon Central, 11 AM Mountain, 10 Pacific on Tuesday, June 22. Wherever you are, just remember to visit the events page at to learn more and register for the next BPA training course. I'm Joan Kornblith. Coming up on FAS Focus, a few fascinating FAS facts. Welcome back to GSA FAS Focus. I'm Joan Kornblith. We are almost out of time for today, but I do want to leave you with a few fascinating FAS facts. And since we were speaking with Judith Zawatsky earlier -- Judith, the assistant commissioner for GSA's Office of Systems Management -- I thought it might make sense to check out a few things related to OSM. Let us start with a few stats about business volume. I know that got a lot of traffic. But, you know, this is pretty cool. Check this out. Stats to date in FY21 showed that business volume in is $3.8 trillion -- that is trillion with a T. >> That's an incredible volume. Like that dollar amount just doesn't make any sense to me. >> Yes. Now, check this out also. Business volume, 3.8 trillion in awards by 66 million records. Not sure exactly what that means but it sounds like a lot. $8.5 trillion in contracts. Now, I wonder how many contract awards, contract actions that is? Do you want to take a guess? >> Oh, boy, that's a tough one, right. So you said it was 8.5 trillion in contracts? >> Yes. >> Okay. I don't know, 25 million contract actions? >> We are thinking pretty big. It's actually a lot of per contract action, because it's 16 million contract actions. >> Oh, wow, okay. >> So that's a lot per contract action. And then, how many entity, separate entity, registrations do you think have been processed? >> So I'm going to cheat here because I was listening earlier when you were talking to Judith and I know she said somewhere over 700,000 entities are in >> Your listening skills are to be commended. 710,000, and that is a lot, a lot of different entities. 710,000 entities in Well, here is one for you about the redesign. In keeping with its commitment to develop innovative customer-centric technology, GSA conducted many, many user focus groups to determine stakeholder wants and needs for And what follows focus groups? You know this because you worked on those. Reviewing all of the user feedback. Do you want to take a guess at how many comments were reviewed during the development process? >> Well, given I know roughly how many focus groups they had and how they collected feedback, I'm going to guess maybe like a baseball stadium size amount of people commented. So let's say 25/30,000. >> Up, up, up. It was a big stadium. 35,000 comments from the users, yes, came in. 35,000 comments is the result. >> And just think, you know, all of those comments were looked at by somebody on the OSM team. Like Judith said, they'd prioritize. They'd look at. They'd read them all. So wow, that's an undertaking. >> And they don't just read them all, they take them into serious consideration. >> Yeah. >> They're not dismissed. The comments are considered seriously, yes. So that's quite impressive. Those are all the fascinating FAS facts I have for you today. Don't forget, if there is anything else FAS related that you would like to learn about or someone that you would like to hear featured on FAS Focus, let us know. Send a note to GSA FAS Focus at That is GSA FAS Focus at And don't forget to click and sign up for this podcast. It's super simple. We've got a "subscribe now" button right there when you're listening to the podcast. So please subscribe. Because if you subscribe, I might stop asking you. I'm Joan Kornblith. I probably won't stop asking you, I'll keep asking you to subscribe because that person sitting next to you hasn't subscribed yet. I'm Joan Kornblith. I put the words together. Max Sempora is our producer. Domine Artis handles our social media. Thank you to Judith Zawatsky for joining us in the studio this week. FAS Focus is a production of the US General Services Administration's Office of Strategic Communication. [ Music ]