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GSA’s acquisition hallways to come under measurement microscope

DALLAS–The General Services Administration’s Federal Acquisition Service has opened 17 hallways in its Common Acquisition Platform (CAP) and now it’s ready to measure the effectiveness of its effort.

Tom Sharpe, the commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service at GSA, said his organization has a new vision to be the place where contracting officers and other acquisition workers can go for unbiased advice and find the best value to get their mission done.

Tom Sharpe, the commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service at GSA
Tom Sharpe, the commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service at GSA

“What we are really focused now with the 17 is, what’s the measure of success? We will work with the Office of Management and Budget and I think you’d probably want a baseline of how many contracts, how many transactions, percentage going to small business and sustainable, and all the things important to government,” said Sharpe in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio from the National Contract Management Association’s World Congress. “Then, [we will] undertake a strategy that improves against that baseline over time. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy has put out a definition of ‘spend under management’ so contracts are scored from 1s to 2s to 3s. OFPP has determined that’s in the government’s interest and the taxpayer’s interest so we want to measure against that baseline and improve over time.”

FAS’s updated goal and new vision coincides with the launch of the Obama administration’s category management initiative.

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Under category management, OFPP, along with GSA, is trying to give agencies data to make better procurement decisions.

Sharpe said the real center piece to category management, including the CAP and the hallways, is having one place for acquisition workers to collaborate and find resources.

Sharpe said the tools in the hallways include:

  • An IT solutions finder to help contracting officers determine the best contract to use to buy IT;
  • E-Buy open, which lets acquisition workers search any and all requests for quotes under the GSA schedule since 2014;
  • A prices paid dashboard to give users a range of cost for specific items.
  • The Calc tool, which lets users calculate how much certain labor categories for professional services cost based on the agency’s requirements.

Kay Ely, GSA’s director of Schedule 70, said at the NCMA conference that the IT schedule is an early adopter of category management and the hallways.

She said an interagency team led by NASA is working on an initiative to create standards for laptops and desktops.

“We are trying to get to the 80-20 rule, where we may not meet everyone’s needs, but most people’s needs,” she said. “But this is really in the category management space the first step to reduce duplication. The Governmentwide Strategic Solutions laptop desktop initiative is being tested by GSA, the National Institutes of Health and NASA SEWP. We also are collecting in the hardware space a tremendous amount of data.”

GSA released a request for information earlier this summer for the laptop desktop program. The RFI asked for feedback on five standard desktop and laptop configurations based on the feedback it received earlier this year from agencies and vendors.

Ely said GSA also is looking at special item numbers (SINs) in the software category, and the agency plans to bundle and send to one working group which will focus on it.

Sharpe said the hallways are part of FAS’s four-part transformation.

A second major part is updating the multiple award schedule. It’s 60 years old and built primarily for products, while agencies are buying mostly services off the schedule today. Agencies spent more than $35 billion on the schedules last year.

Sharpe said FAS is focusing on price consistency by standardizing part numbers for products under the schedule contracts.

“Why is this important? To be able to compare and contrast, we have to get to a standard part number,” he said. “So now we are working to get those standard part numbers in place and we will have touched all those suppliers with a comparison of prices for those standard part numbers. We will be able to show them the range of pricing for that standard part number. We are aiming for two desired outcomes: For those vendors to understand their competitive position and to invite them to bring their prices more into a more competitive posture; and/or to point out to us where they have a unique value proposition, whether it’s length warranty or something like that where we can help make clear. Coming out of that exercise, we’d like to have a more competitive pricing posture at the top of MAS.”

At the same time, Sharpe said GSA entered in a rulemaking effort to require vendors to submit transactional data at the order level.

“If that rule is approved and put in place, we’d have a clause in the MAS contracts at the order level, the vendors would report the actual transactional data at the order level: the volumes, the pricing, the location, the customer, all the demographics the contracting officer would want to understand when they raise a new order, they’d have that intelligence to inform a new order,” he said. “The intelligence also would help us better support our customers. We can see the patterns in what they are buying and what they are not buying and the conditions. Then, we’d like to wrap that in a basic supplier report card, not unlike you see out at the Defense Logistics Agency, to be sure things like subcontracting reports and other things we care about are being done on these MAS contracts.”

GSA’s pricing effort is in reaction, in part, to a survey it took of its agency customers and two deviations from the Defense Department and NASA to the Federal Acquisition Regulations concerning price reasonableness of the schedules.

Sharpe said he hasn’t quantified the impact of these deviations on the schedules.

“My reaction is these are customers and the message I took away from it was they are asking for help on price,” he said. “We are standardizing part numbers. We are making the prices more competitive at the schedule level. Then we are introducing the transactional data clause to inform on the orders. I think they will have a very powerful pricing position on MAS going forward if the transactional data clause, in particular, is approved.”

Sharpe said he is not aware of any other possible agency FAR deviations for schedules, and that’s why GSA is putting so many resources toward these pricing initiatives.

Vendors have expressed deep concerns over the transactional pricing effort, especially GSA’s estimated burden of six hours to meet the requirements.

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