Inside the Reporter’s Notebook: Category management launches five pilots; more vendor past performance data

In this edition of Inside the Reporter's Notebook, Executive Editor Jason Miller shares news and buzz about the IT and acquisition communities.

“Inside the Reporter’s Notebook” is a biweekly dispatch of news and information you may have missed or that slipped through the cracks at conferences, hearings and the like.

This is not a column nor commentary — it’s news tidbits, strongly sourced buzz, and other items of interest that have happened or are happening in the federal IT and acquisition communities.

As always, I encourage you to submit ideas, suggestions and, of course, news to me at

Category management launches five pilots

The category management initiative led by the General Services Administration is starting to come into focus. GSA kicked off five governmentwide pilots and 17 agency specific functional areas.

GSA detailed the five pilots at the June Chief Acquisition Officer’s Council. Multiple sources confirmed the five pilots are:

  • Information Technology-led by Mary Davie, GSA’s assistant commissioner for the Office of Integrated Technology Services (ITS). This pilot will focus on hardware, software, telecommunications and services.
  • Human capital-led by Sydney Smith-Heimbrock, who leads the employee services’ center for strategic workforce planning for the Office of Personnel Management. The acquisition piece of the upcoming training and management assistance (TMA) contract will be a major part of this effort, sources say.
  • Administration–Marty Jennings, GSA’s assistant commissioner of General Supplies and Services, will head up this effort that includes areas such as office supplies.
  • Transportation–The Defense Department Transportation Command will lead this effort, which includes the next generation of delivery services under the strategic sourcing initiative.
  • Medical and pharmaceutical supplies – Sources say GSA hasn’t named someone to lead the pilot yet. It will focus on surgical and medical supplies.

“It’s a smart way to approach commodity buying and evaluating where agencies are spending their money and how to maximize value from that spend,” said Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president and general counsel for the Professional Services Council, an industry association. “At its core, it looks like strategic sourcing, but the difference is it’s not looking at reducing the number of suppliers.”

Chvotkin said category management is just a new name for something government and industry have been doing for years. He pointed to the Freeze the Footprint initiative and the enterprise software license program called SmartBuy as two examples of where the government is trying to use data to better understand what and how they buy and then improve their outcomes.

Category management is part of GSA’s effort to enhance how it serves industry and agency customers.

Through category management, Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner Tom Sharpe said GSA can provide a more coordinated, strategic approach to governmentwide purchasing and more cost savings.

Sharpe said in the past that GSA hopes to increase its market share of federal procurement spending to as much as 66 percent from around 15 percent as of 2013.

But multiple sources confirmed that GSA’s talk about market share is rubbing some agencies the wrong way. Sources say Defense Department acquisition officials recently made it clear that GSA needs to stop talking and start doing.

Sources say if GSA wants to be a provider of choice, DoD officials told Sharpe and others at FAS that they need to work on specific solutions and not just talk about market share. And speaking of DoD, Sharpe and GSA haven’t publicly said word one about the April memo from Dick Ginman, director for procurement and acquisition policy, requiring contracting officers to make their own determinations about whether the prices on the GSA schedules are fair and reasonable.

Since Ginman issued the memo, DoD hasn’t acted to translate the memo into regulatory changes so it’s unclear what impact it’s actually having.

But GSA’s lack of public comment, some say, is disconcerting because instead of nipping the potential controversy in the bud, DoD’s concerns are taking root with other agencies.

Sources say the departments of Energy and Health and Human Services are working on similar memos. HHS and DoE are big users of the GSA schedules and if three of the largest users decide the schedule prices are not fair and reasonable as the Federal Acquisition Regulations say they are, that could be the start of big problems for GSA.

Quick to the Google for more vendor past performance data

Few took notice to the latest effort by the Office of Federal Procurement Policy to get agencies to make better use of past performance data.

Lesley Field, acting OFPP administrator, issued a memo July 10 requiring agencies to do more research and evaluation of vendor performance.

“To address this risk and ensure we make awards to contractors with good performance records, as well as to encourage the use of new and innovative companies with little or no Federal experience, agencies are directed to undertake additional outreach and research to make more informed decisions, as described below,” Field wrote in the memo. “These common sense steps are to be applied to, at a minimum, acquisitions (contracts or orders) for complex information technology (IT) development, systems, and services over $500,000, and other acquisitions (contracts or orders) identified by the agency as presenting a significant risk.”

This is the fourth memo since 2009 OFPP has sent out to agencies trying to get them to improve data quality and the use of past performance information to make better acquisition decisions. OFPP’s memo comes in light of stark criticism by Senate lawmakers on the quality of the data in the past performance database and the inability of agencies to make informed decisions.

Given those long-standing problems, Field told agencies to consider other sources of information beyond the Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS). These include everything from asking for feedback from other federal agencies to searching for news about the company to talking to subcontractors.

At the same time, however, OFPP smartly recognized that companies may need to respond to public data may be considered negative and offer information on how they resolved any problems.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) has been the most outspoken critic of PPIRS and agency use of data. The memo seems to show the administration is listening, particularly around the technology behind PPIRS.

Field wrote that GSA updated the Integrated Award Environment (IAE) system in June to standardize contractor performance evaluations and reduce cost and duplication through the merger of two separate past performance modules into Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS). GSA also simplified the process for assessing contractor performance by standardizing the rating elements, using a single assessment form and establishing a standard workflow. Finally, it enhanced the system so that performance evaluations can be shared faster with source selection team.

Field said future CPARS improvements in 2015 include additional search functions, the ability to display all reports from one vendor and advanced reporting tools.

One interesting aside to this discussion on contractor past performance data, Anne Rung, the White House’s nominee to be OFPP administrator, wrote in her questions for the record to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that she would look into whether vendors should rate agencies on their acquisition process.

That would certainly turn the tables on the idea of past performance as agency ratings might just be the missing motivator for real acquisition improvements.

Technology leaders on the move

The Defense Intelligence Agency is looking for a new chief information officer. The Energy Department is getting a new chief information security officer from the Commerce Department.

Grant Schneider decided after seven years as DIA CIO he’s ready for a new challenge.

A DIA spokesman said the current plan is for Schneider to remain at DIA until a new person is selected and is on board. The spokesperson said Schneider hasn’t announced any future plans. DIA’s job announcement for a CIO closed July 25.

Schneider was well-regarded as the DIA CIO where he focused on helping lead the Intelligence Community toward common technology and services under the Intelligence Community’s IT Enterprise program.

Meanwhile, Rod Turk, the chief information Security Officer at Commerce is heading to Energy in the same role. He will take over for Gil Vega, who left in August 2013.

Politico first reported Turk’s new job.

A Commerce spokesperson confirmed that Turk will join Energy next week, and Mike Maraya will be acting Commerce CISO. Maraya currently is the agency’s enterprise cybersecurity program manager within the Office of Cybersecurity.

IT Job of the Week

Both the DIA and Commerce CISO jobs would be the obvious highlights, but another interesting position caught my eye. The Homeland Security Department is looking for a chief technology officer.

DHS wants the CTO to “drive standardization of technologies, evolution of best practices and identification of technology trends and/or approaches that may support or impede the fulfillment of DHS mission through collaboration and knowledge sharing with and education of management, partners, customers, and stakeholders.”

Applications are due by Aug. 4.

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