GSA and AbilityOne: Partners in Transformation

As individuals or organizations, we deal with change constantly. While it can be challenging to adapt to new circumstances in our households or at work, one of the ways people cope is to focus on core principles and apply them to new scenarios. For the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS), one of our core principles has been a longstanding commitment to the AbilityOne program and the tens of thousands of blind or severely disabled people who are employed in the provision of products and services to federal customers.  As we continue on the path of transforming and modernizing our supply programs, our commitment to the AbilityOne program and support for its goals remain core to our operations.

GSA provides training, in partnership with AbilityOne, to assist vendors wishing to become authorized distributors of AbilityOne products like office supplies.
GSA provides training, in partnership with AbilityOne, to assist vendors wishing to become authorized distributors of AbilityOne products like office supplies.

The AbilityOne program was established under the authority of the Javits Wagner O’Day Act, and guidance and direction is provided through an independent Committee (known as the AbilityOne Commission) comprised of public and non-profit partners. I have had the privilege of serving on this Commission, and GSA works to ensure that the guidance established by this independent body is carried out within our agency.

The future of GSA’s Supply Transformation efforts shifts us to a model that will result in a more efficient supply chain, faster delivery times and better prices for our agency customers. This new approach will continue to strengthen our long-standing partnership with the AbilityOne program while at the same time using the capabilities of our vendors to directly support GSA’s customers, simplify federal acquisition, and over the next five years save taxpayers a half billion dollars.

As most of you know, GSA celebrated its 60th anniversary in July of this year.  Our partners at AbilityOne are still going strong after 75 years of service and through our varied GSA programs are adapting to the 21st century marketplace.  GSA’s support of the AbilityOne community is still a key part of our business and takes many forms. A few examples:

  • Under our Multiple Award Schedules program, GSA provides training, in partnership with AbilityOne, to assist vendors wishing to become authorized distributors of AbilityOne products.  At last count, 299 office supply vendors and 199 providers of janitorial and maintenance supplies were formally trained and certified. That’s almost 500 companies who are committed to making such products available to federal customers, military or civilian, worldwide

  • During FY 2013, GSA Global Supply sold more than $228 million worth of AbilityOne products, representing 22% of business. Though we don’t yet have final figures for FY 14, through August it appears that AbilityOne sales, while smaller in absolute terms at $191 million, will represent an even larger share of our business at almost 31%. While overall sales have declined due to multiple factors (drawdown in Afghanistan, general federal budget pressure, etc.) there is still a substantial portion of our business driven by AbilityOne products.

  • Under Supply Transformation, GSA is closing its distribution centers in NJ and CA and transitioning to a model that streamlines distribution by having vendor partners directly store and ship our products.  During the current transition, and after the complete implementation of the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI), all vendors must be authorized AbilityOne distributors before they can be considered as vendor partners for GSA Global Supply.

  • For all vendor partners, new or old, GSA spot checks for compliance with rules regarding “Essentially the Same” (ETS) compliance.  Briefly stated, ETS prohibits vendors from offering or shipping a commercial item that is deemed equivalent to an AbilityOne product. GSA works closely with AbilityOne to identify ETS items, to communicate to vendors which product offerings are valid, and verifies compliance with random checks.

At work, the rapid pace of change can make it difficult to keep track of relevant acronyms, much less the program details each one represents.  In these scenarios, it can be comforting and productive to focus on our core principles and bring them to bear on new facts and circumstances.  In our case, it’s helpful to know that our decades-long partnership with AbilityOne continues to be a cornerstone of our work in supplying the varied missions of our federal colleagues.