Improvements to how agencies buy goods, services bear out little fruit

Thursday - 9/20/2012, 3:27am EDT

In part 4 of Federal News Radio's special report, The Obama Impact: Evaluating the Last Four Years, we examine progress the administration has made in the acquisition arena. We rated one initiative as effective (green), three as ineffective (red) and two as more progress needed (yellow). View the details of each initiative through our interactive dashboard.

Strategic Sourcing   DoD Acquisition Process
High-Risk Contracts
  Insourcing / Inherently Governmental
Small Business Contracting
Industry / Government Relationship

President Barack Obama put improving the federal acquisition process at the center of his management initiatives. Over the last three years, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy focused on three broad goals:

  • Demonstrating fiscal responsibility - OFPP wants agencies to ensure competition, reduce the number of high risk contracts, such as time and materials and labor hours types, and improve the efficiency of their buying by, in part, moving toward strategic sourcing to take advantage of the government's size.

  • Strengthening the acquisition workforce - The goal is to have a better trained and equipped contracting officers and contracting officer's representatives.

  • Performance of inherently governmental and critical functions - Agencies have been reviewing the makeup of their contractor and employee workforces and figuring out the best balance of the two, paying close attention to jobs that should only be done by federal employees.

None of these areas are new. Under other administrations, OFPP's goals would have looked very similar.

The biggest difference, however, is the attention many of these goals received from the White House. And that's why the expectations, in some regards, were greater than ever before. At the same time, the attention to reducing agency budgets led to a more in-depth focus on better acquisition performance.

In part 4 of Federal News Radio's special week-long multimedia series, The Obama Impact: Evaluating the last Four Years, we focus on how the administration performed against many of their top acquisition initiatives.

Strategic sourcing

The administration decided to dust off the idea that the government is one big shopper and not 130 medium sized ones as part of its Campaign to Cut Waste.

Other White Houses have tried and failed to get agencies to take advantage of volume discounts. But the Office of Federal Procurement Policy's push over the last three-plus years finally has resonated with agencies.

Former OFPP Administrator Dan Gordon on the benefits of strategic sourcing (interview)

Former OFPP Administrator Dan Gordon issued a memo in December 2009 detailing strategic sourcing as a priority.

The General Services Administration reenergized the office supplies contract and created a blanket purchase agreement for 15 companies. It also is moving print management, mobile devices and service plans and IT commodity hardware strategic sourcing vehicles.

On, OMB said the government is saving $40 million a year on office supplies, expects to save 30 percent off printing and copying costs, and expects to save at least $100 million on wireless devices by the end of fiscal 2013.

Additionally, several agencies the departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, Interior, Agriculture and the Air Force have issued memos requiring or strongly encouraging the use of the office supply BPA, meaning agency buy-in is stronger than ever before.

Congress also is seeing the benefits of strategic sourcing. Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) co-authored the Acquisition Reform Bill in 2011 to require more robust use of federal strategic sourcing vehicles, which allow the government to consolidate its shopping lists and buy in bulk, rather than have each agency pursue its own procurements.

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