GSA and AbilityOne: 65 Years and Still Going Strong

Sixty five years of mutual collaboration is a huge accomplishment and GSA is justifiably proud of its decades-long partnership with the AbilityOne community. Though our respective programs have evolved over the years, and the names of our constituent pieces have changed, our shared commitment to fulfilling the requirements of the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act has not wavered. This legislation, dating back to 1938, requires federal agencies to purchase products and services provided by nonprofit agencies whose employees are blind or have significant disabilities.

Deputy FAS Commissioner Bill Sisk speaking at a 2012 National Industries for the Blind (NIB) conference. (Photo courtesy of of U.S. AbilityOne Commission)
Deputy FAS Commissioner Bill Sisk speaking at a 2012 National Industries for the Blind Annual Conference. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. AbilityOne Commission)

As a result, in Fiscal Year 2013 GSA registered sales of almost $228 million through our Global Supply program for items sourced from AbilityOne agencies.  When you consider GSA’s positive employment impact on the AbilityOne workforce that amounts to nearly fifty thousand people, and is a group that faces great challenges, even in a robust economy, we can and do celebrate this successful partnership.

As Deputy Commissioner of FAS and a presidentially-appointed U.S. AbilityOne Commission, I get to see and appreciate some of the “behind the scenes” work that makes this partnership successful. One example is our collaboration to remove commercial products that are “Essentially the Same” (ETS) as AbilityOne supplied products. ETS products are non-compliant items (not designated as AbilityOne) that suppliers sometimes substitute for compliant products. GSA and AbilityOne’s collaborative efforts to remove these items makes it easy for federal customers to identify and purchase AbilityOne items and helps to remove confusion for potential buyers. While this task may seem simple, it involves a review of tens of thousands of items across thousands of contracts.

To identify and remove ETS items requires a substantial investment of time, effort and money.  Engineers in each of GSA’s acquisition centers perform regular product reviews. Then we schedule a comprehensive “remediation” session to review vendor offerings and tally ETS items. In February 2013, we found more than 11,700 items to remove from the offerings of 435 different vendors.  In October, another round found 25,000 items across 404 vendors.  In a few weeks, we’ll partner with AbilityOne for a third round of product reviews. GSA is committed to the ETS process, whether the vendor has sales measured in the millions or works on a more modest scale.

This story of collaboration on ETS items is but one example of the positive working relationship between FAS and AbilityOne. In today’s business environment of rapid change and often great uncertainty, it’s a good feeling to know that our partnership with AbilityOne, one of the foundational elements of our supply business, is still strong even after 65 years of shared history.  As those changes unfold, FAS looks forward to partnering with AbilityOne to continue this proud tradition.

Related posts:

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  3. GSA Helps Agencies Save $10 Million on Office Supplies