OFPP sees millions in taming cell phone contracts

Friday - 8/20/2010, 7:20am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy is reinvigorating a working group to recover hundreds of millions of dollars agencies are wasting on cell phones and other wireless devices.

Jack Kelly, a policy analyst with OFPP, said Thursday the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative wireless telecommunications working group will decide the next steps to get agencies to improve how they manage and optimize wireless telecommunications plans.

"We've reached out to folks who have proven themselves as leaders within the agency strategic sourcing communities, folks from Veterans Affairs, from Health and Human Services and folks from Homeland Security and we've invited their senior procurement executives to be members of a strategic sourcing working group," Kelly said after his panel on wireless communications contracts during the FedScoop conference on lowering the costs of government in Washington. "We've gotten Mike Howell, who is the [federal] deputy chief information officer, to co-chair that group to give us a tighter link to the IT community. We think that not only the IT community has already pioneered a lot of strategic sourcing-like initiatives, SmartBuy is a good example, but it's also with $80 billion of annual spending it's a very ripe area for additional savings from strategic sourcing approaches."

Kelly said the wireless working group is one of three phase-2 strategic sourcing efforts. OFPP already launched a second generation effort around office supplies. The General Services Administration awarded 12 blanket purchase agreements for office supplies in June that will make it easier and cheaper for agencies to purchase this equipment. GSA estimates the BPAs will save the government $48 million a year for four years.

The second area OFPP is looking at is delivery services, such as UPS or FedEx.

Kelly says wireless communications is the third initiative that will enter phase 2. GSA awarded the Telecommunications Expense Management Services (TEMS) in 2008, but only three agencies have purchased assistance off the contract.

"The thing that is striking is when you look at the success of the three agencies, it's dramatic," Kelly said. "The question that naturally comes to mind is 'why aren't more people using these tools or tools like them?' Now I suspect what is actually happening is that some agencies have developed in-house approaches or other contract approaches to this issue because we know of other agencies who are addressing this."

Kelly said one thing OFPP is considering is using the data from the IT Line of Business to make their case further that the government is overpaying for wireless services.

"Where we have been successful with second generation is being able to get people, agency folks, to the table who have done a lot of good work," he said. "We stand on the shoulders of the folks who have done the best work so far."

Russ Peery, GSA's Wireless Telecommunications Expense Management contracting officer technical representative, said it's pretty clear that agencies are overspending.

He said few agencies have an accurate inventory of what devices they have, how much the devices are being used and how much they are paying for them.

"Some agencies see between 17 percent and 35 percent decrease in their spend for cell phones and wireless devices when they improve the management of these plans," Peery said. "The government could save between $150 million and $200 million a year if agencies did a better job managing these devices."

Additionally, Peery said agencies could save money by applying more strict oversight to their billing processes. He said the Gartner Group found in a 2008 study that most organizations have an invoicing error rate of 33 percent.

Peery said the TEMS contract is set up to help agencies get their wireless spending under control

Jin Kang, president of iSYS, a TEMS contractor, said his company will create the agency's inventory and reconcile any problems at no cost. Then iSYS, like all of the TEMS providers, will help monitor spending and apply management and process efficiencies.

Kang said because few agencies have accurate inventories, between 9-and-12 percent of all wireless lines are not being used by anyone.

Rebel McFertridge, the Wireless Program Manager for the Customs and Border Protection at DHS, said her agency has 22,000 wireless lines and had little insight into who was using what until recently. She said CBP does not have centralized oversight and each office is responsible for buying and managing their wireless needs.

But after six months of focused effort, CBP not only has its telecommunications under better control, but is issuing a new policy in the coming months, McFertridge said.