Navy turns to strategic sourcing to cut conference spending

Wednesday - 8/20/2014, 4:31am EDT

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The Office of Management and Budget has a long list of governmentwide priorities — among them are more federal spending with small businesses, more use of strategic sourcing in the procurement process and less spending on government conferences.

With regard to those three priorities, the Department of the Navy thinks its brand new contract vehicle for conference planning services is a trifecta.

The Navy made blanket purchase agreement awards to 17 firms — all of them small businesses — on May 31 in an attempt to take a strategic sourcing approach to the way the Navy and Marine Corps plan and pay for their conferences.

The Navy wants the BPAs, which run through 2017, to become a turnkey solution for all of its conference planning. While individual components of the Navy Department aren't yet being required to use them, guidance to that effect is likely on the horizon.

The BPAs, which the Navy made through the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Schedule, also are open for use by any other component of the Defense Department.

The Navy decided conference planning was ripe for strategic sourcing after spending several years examining DoD conference spending. Its conclusion was that every Defense component was buying essentially the same products and services, but duplicating the work required by the traditional procurement process each time.

"We have a contracting workforce out there that's basically churning the same vendor market over and over again," said Jamey Halke, the program manager for the Navy's strategic sourcing program. "If we can establish vehicles we can all use together, we're freeing up our contracting workforce as well. So there are soft savings, as well as hard savings."

Data on spending could equal more savings

The Navy believes it and the other Defense components that use the BPA will achieve those "hard savings" on conference planning in the short term, because the 17 vendors involved have each offered discounts to the prices they already offer on the GSA schedules, and because each individual job will involve competition at the task-order level through GSA's reverse auction system.

The contracts also push vendors to use government-owned facilities for meetings, based on Navy research, which shows that those facilities are often vacant.

But Halke said the Navy believes there are additional savings to be gleaned over the long term, because the terms of the BPAs also require vendors to deliver exquisite detail on where every dollar that's spent through the contract vehicle is going.

"It's going to allow us to start to collect things like attendance information, where the conference is being held, promotional spending, copying fees. All of that is going to be reported by the vendor back to the agency involved, and that's all going to be fed up to the [Office of the Secretary of Defense] as part of ongoing OSD oversight over conferences," Halke said. "That data is going to build our next spiral of contract solutions, and it also helps us evaluate costs, so we can make good decisions about future conferences. For example, there are off-peak periods in certain parts of the country where it might be more appropriate for the government to hold a conference. The more data we collect from the vendors, the better our decisions are going to be about conferences in the future."

Open to all of DoD

The Navy pitched its new BPAs to DoD's Office of Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy and to officials in the Army and Air Force in the hopes of making them the go-to solution for Defense contracting officers who need to buy conference space and contract support for meetings.

"But we're still trying to get the word out to the grassroots level, to the folks out in the field who might have a requirement to plan a conference sometime during fiscal 2015," Halke said. "On the Navy side, there's already a discussion about policy to make sure we can push down the awareness of these vehicles to the lowest echelons. We're hoping the other services will follow suit."

Halke said administrative leaders within the Navy's portion of the Pentagon were firmly on board, though. In part, that's because the BPAs will make it much easier to comply with OMB mandates, which require every element of the government to more closely track and control their conference spending.

"They're excited about these vehicles, because it's going take a lot of work off of them," he said. "Instead of doing data calls across the Navy, if we can get the user population to use the BPAs, it's going to aggregate the details of the conferences for them. In a year or two, I hope we'll be in a golden age of data that we never had before."

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