Improving GSA Customer Service by Cutting Red Tape


Agency: General Services Administration

Title: Improving GSA Customer Service by Cutting Red Tape

Background Information

GSA's Office Supplies and Paper Products Commodity Center in New York is in the thick of one of the most competitive markets in America--buying office supplies from suppliers and selling them worldwide. Pressured by competition, the Center has changed long standing government contract rules that had virtually guaranteed disgruntled customers. Under the old rules, when a supplier failed to deliver, GSA could not buy the goods from somebody else without formally terminating the first supplier's contract. The termination process takes nine months, if there are no complications. While that drags on, GSA runs out of stock and its customers get fed up and go elsewhere. The new innovative rules, which the Center is putting in all new contracts, let GSA make temporary deals with other suppliers if stocks are running low. GSA will have what its customers want when they want it.

Another of the Center's initiatives will not only raise the quality and lower the cost of office supplies, but it also promises to bring more American manufacturers up to world class standards. Over 80% of the Center's suppliers do not use statistical process control, the technique the Japanese used to become a world leading manufacturer. Instead, most U.S. firms, including some very well known companies, rely on inspectors at the end of the line to weed out defective pieces. Standard government contracts actually encourage that obsolete, WWII style of quality control and most inspectors have only been trained to test for an "acceptable" percentage of defects.

The Center is changing all that. Their inspectors are trained in statistical process control, and equipped with laptops and the same easy to use software that Motorola used when they won the Baldridge Award. The inspectors have thrown away the old 500 page quality control handbook that dictated their every move, and replaced it with a seven page guide that contains advice such as, ".. .be creative and use Statistical Process forming a decision on quality conformance." The inspectors are actually teaching manufacturers how to use SPC and the Center has begun modifying contracts to incorporate SPC rather than end-of-line inspection.

A highlight of their new quality approach involves computer paper made by a National Industries for the Blind workshop in Binghamton, NY. (Federal agencies are required by law to buy NIB products.) The workshop had just begun manufacturing the familiar fan-fold paper and a lot of it was defective. They would either have gone under or passed on the high cost of bad quality to GSA, its customers, and the taxpayers. However, GSA taught them how to use SPC, and they reduced factory scrap by 80% in just three months. The extra good news is that the workshop manufacturing process continues to improve.

The Center is making sure nobody's good idea gets overlooked. Under a creative union-management partnership, the whole staff has recently started meeting in small groups for an hour each week to decide what the Center could be doing better, and how to it. Of course, customers get in on the act, too. The Center doesn't wait for customers to take their business elsewhere to find out whether there's a problem. They conduct regular customer surveys, and change things to give the customers what they want.

The next project on the planning board is called ACCESS GSA. It will be an automated, one-stop service center on the first floor of the New York Federal Plaza. The location is convenient for the 42,000 GSA customers who work for a wide variety of agencies in and around the Federal Plaza. Through self-help computer terminals, or with help from a service representative, customers will be able quickly to find out what GSA has to offer, order any of their full range of goods and services, and deal directly with someone who has the authority to solve problems.

"We have to deliver the right quality for the right price at the right time or we are out of business." - Gerry Turetsky, entrepreneurial chief.

Main NPR Category: Customer Service

Related NPR Categories: Cutting Back to Basics

Contact Person: Jerry Turetsky or Terry Martin

Contact Phone: (210) 264-3590

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