In the early morning hours on Sept. 11, 2001, Lyne de Seve was preparing to take part in a panel discussion hosted by the General Services Administration (GSA) in Fort Worth, Texas, where government contracts for security were facilitated. In her role as president of GSA Schedules Inc., an Annapolis, Md.-based government contract consulting company, de Seve was invited to address stakeholders on the intricacies of navigating the security contracting process.
At the time, the GSA was making concerted efforts to reach out to security suppliers and integrators to better understand the industry as the deployment of security systems in government facilities was beginning to increase. The panel session, however, would be postponed due to the terrorist attacks later that morning. With all air flight canceled nationwide, de Seve and a few other industry colleagues scrambled to rent a car for their long drive home to Maryland and other parts.
Below she discusses how the 9/11 attacks would forever change the course of government contracting.
What was the approximate size of GSA contracting for security systems prior to 9/11?
The GSA contract for security was very small. Even going back to 1996, it was probably about $16 million and most of those sales were from ADT. Today it is more than $2 billion.
Did you see an immediate increase in security contracting following 9/11?
It exploded. GSA couldn’t keep up and they had to bring on numerous more contracting officers. At that time there were maybe two contracting officers that handled everything. The agencies were struggling as well to have enough folks even to procure what was needed. There was an explosion of companies wanting to get in on the GSA contract because of all the focus on the federal agencies to beef up their security. The GSA contract, being a streamlined procurement methodology, was of course the vehicle of choice.
How was your business affected?
My work quadrupled. I already worked with a lot of large manufacturers and integrators in supporting their efforts and it just blossomed. From large businesses to small businesses; integrators and manufacturers. GSA continued to work on better defining what it could do for total solutions. There are a lot of unique things that go on with supporting a security system, even just maintaining one. GSA explored and expanded its scope for legality. The center in Fort Worth continued to work toward having that dialogue with the security industry and providing more training to support the whole effort. There was certainly growth with all my clients with their businesses with government because of 9/11.
Did a logjam ensue at GSA?
Yes, and it happened pretty quickly and it continued through 2003. There was an onslaught of interest. There was a lot of frustration in the industry because of wanting to do things quickly and having processes in place and not being able to make it happen if they weren’t already there. People who already had a GSA contract were well positioned and really started to build upon what they had available. People that didn’t have a GSA contract might be waiting at least a year to get one back then. That’s how backed up it got.
Did the frenzy change the way government contracting was executed?
Innovations to contracting emerged in finding ways to do it quickly, efficiently and legally. One aspect that was different was agencies trying to find different methodologies to make it happen, like writing blanket purchase agreements so they didn’t have to keep cutting orders. They could cut task orders.
What significant contracting challenges surfaced following 9/11?
Definitely there were challenges with procurement when HSPD-12 came about. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security, that really changed everything. Boy, did that throw contracting for a loop. You take all those agencies and then combine them into one and nobody knows who can buy what or who to talk to. It was a real challenge. For example, maybe you had a previous relationship with the right guy at the Coast Guard, but now all of a sudden there are different people involved. But who?
I still find it a little challenging but it has gotten better. There are some inefficiencies and overlap in the processes with many agencies. You have something that works, but then everyone has to put their stamp on it. That can make it overly burdensome. That is often the case with DHS. You have to go through a lot of layers.
How did the landscape change for integrators?
If you look at the GSA contract for security you see that a lot of local and regional small businesses are getting savvy and getting onboard to do business with the government. One reason the opportunity opened up is because of the passage of cooperative purchasing, which SIA was instrumentally involved in. The events of 9/11 helped cooperative purchasing tremendously. It gave the perfect example of the ability to coordinate between federal and local agencies and for them to take advantage of the same vendors that the federal government utilized.
Locally these [installing security contractors] in the past would have been concerned that the big guys would take away all their business. Companies that were local to the agency could now use the same contract vehicles; not just federal, but state and local. In fact, more GSA opportunities now exist with federal and state agencies, but probably even more so at the local level.
Small contractors are subcontracting for larger contractors as well by getting their own GSA contract. And they can take advantage of new electronic tools that GSA has so that agencies can find them easier. I believe the incidents of Sept. 11 stimulated all of these activities.
In the rush to enter the government market, were there many companies ill-suited to play in the space?
That was definitely the case. For some people the timing was good and for others it was misguided because they weren’t really in a position to support everything that is required. I saw a rush of people, thinking there was an opportunity for them. There were a lot DVR companies. Some of them were from countries that were not on the trade agreement act; their products were made in China. I saw more integrators coming in than manufacturers. Unfortunately, probably 50 percent that came in weren’t making any sales. They thought there was a golden pot at the end of the rainbow, but they forgot you had to work to get it. Some of those companies that bought pie in the sky didn’t understand the commitment. They may not have taken advantage of being in the right place at the right time. Many companies have done well, though.
What has it meant for you personally to be working in the security industry following 9/11?
It was an unfortunate happening, but at the same time there was a sense of pride for myself and for many other companies in that we were working in a field that was doing something worthwhile and necessary for our country. Many of us still feel that way. It was a significant moment in my life as a professional.