Inside the Reporter’s Notebook: OMB not a farm team, Strategic sourcing on steroids

In this week's Reporter's Notebook column, Executive Editor Jason Miller ponders Sylvia Burwell's jump from OMB to HHS and GSA's pumped up approach to buying.

“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

OMB is not the government’s farm team

I was once told if you ever get a chance to work at OMB, take it. It’s filled with incredibly dedicated, hardworking career staff who are the best of the best.

Too bad the Obama White House doesn’t seem to understand that.

I was going to write about OMB’s budget request and how their staff is down by 11 percent since 2010, yet their workload has increased — 40 mentions of OMB in the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act as compared to 18 mentions of OMB in the original GPRA in 1993.

But the budget request doesn’t really matter if the White House can’t keep consistent leadership at the helm.

The nomination of Director Sylvia Burwell as the next secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services makes sense, but it’s not a good decision by White House leaders.

It’s not that Burwell isn’t qualified to be HHS secretary. She’s shown in the 12 months as OMB director that she plans on doing some good things. She is cool under pressure before Congress and seems to understand the need to rebuild OMB, requesting a $4.2 million increase in its budget for 2015.

But the decision also shows the lack of understanding by the White House of the importance of OMB — the same thing can be said about GSA and the Office of Personnel Management, for that matter.

Not having consistent leadership is hurting OMB’s standing in the federal community. I’ve heard this from several current government executives and former OMB staff members. OMB doesn’t carry the influence it once did, and that has a ripple effect across how well the government is managed.

None of the OMB directors during the Obama administration has stayed on the job for more than 18 months — Peter Orzag, 18 months; Jack Lew, 14 months; Burwell, 12 months. And Jeff Zients has been acting twice and, possibly, is in line for a third go around considering OMB deputy director for management Beth Cobert has been in government for a very short amount of time and has no previous federal experience, and Brian Deese, the deputy director for budget, is more of a numbers guy than the type of political insider needed to deal with Congress.

Compare the Obama administration’s record with OMB directors with the previous two administrations:

President George W. Bush: Mitch Daniels, 29 months; Josh Bolten, 34 months, Rob Portman, 13 months, Jim Nussle, 16 months- end of administration;

President Bill Clinton: Leon Panetta, 21 months; Alice Rivlin, 18 months; Franklin Raines, 20 months; Jacob Lew, 32 months-end of administration.

This means most of the previous OMB directors had time to create relationships with Congress, go through at least two budget cycles and influence management concepts across government. Additionally, almost all of the former OMB directors came to lead OMB with connections to Congress already. That is not necessarily true for the Obama leadership, and that has hurt its effectiveness.

Moving OMB directors in and out quickly also causes others to be thrust into acting roles and that has a snowball effect. Again, it’s not about the effectiveness of the people in acting roles — Danny Werfel was acting deputy director for management and became the acting IRS commissioner — but there is an importance that is attached to being permanent versus acting and how management issues are focused upon across the government.

Burwell will be a successful HHS secretary, but it’s a shame it’s at the expense of governmentwide management.

GSA pumps up new approach to buying

S trategic sourcing on steroids. That may be the best way to describe the General Services Administration’s new category management concept rolled out by Tom Sharpe, Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner, Wednesday in a blog post.

A year ago when he was about a month on the job, Sharpe told me one of his main goal was to grow the federal market share of FAS, including the schedules. In fiscal 2012, FAS brought in about $55 billion in sales, about 13.5 percent of all acquisition spending. Sharpe said he’d like to see FAS’ share increase to about 17 percent.

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

“Category management essentially looks at product or services categories the way a business might look at its own strategic business units, and then works on customizing purchase channels to better meet customer needs and market demands. Category management also provides deep-dive market analysis and addresses supply chain management; it can even help with changing behaviors, and reducing demand,” Sharpe wrote in the blog. “For FAS, this means we are identifying core categories of business around which we will develop a higher level of expertise, and then leveraging this expertise to direct and guide buyers to the best solutions for them, and ultimately those in the best interest of the taxpayers, regardless of where that solution comes from. Sometimes that solution will be a GSA contract vehicle and other times, it might be another agency’s contract vehicle.”

Think of category management as a highway with an assortment of stops along the way. Contracting officers or program managers eventually will access a series of tools and resources through a new Common Acquisition Platform (CAP).

“CAP will provide access and insights into transactional (purchasing/pricing) data from across government and reduce the need for maintaining redundant and duplicative acquisition vehicles, systems and tools,” Sharpe wrote. “GSA has a unique position in the government marketplace as a repository of purchasing information and expertise related to best practices, buying behaviors, and prices paid. Through the CAP, GSA will make this information and expertise easily accessible online for all government buyers. We will help buyers navigate the process and the universe of purchasing options, thereby helping them to drive down prices, reduce price variability and make smarter purchases.”

The tools or resources that FAS will make available on CAP include:

  • Procurement Optimizer: A comprehensive contract-comparison search engine that enhances competition for government acquisition.
  • Market Intelligence Center: Category-centric market research materials that guide purchase decisions based on a category manager’s governmentwide expertise.
  • Clear View: Real-time data on pricing and purchasing, as well as assessment tools that help provide a big-picture view of government and individual agency spending behavior.
  • Collaborative Contracting Library: Provides a resource to jump-start procurements with a central repository of exemplary contract work for complex buys compiled by community experts.
  • eMarketplace: An eCommerce transaction platform for simple purchases.

“Initially, we are focusing on a concept we call ‘Category Hallways.’ Here is how the hallways will eventually work. Before any federal buyer goes out to the marketplace with a procurement, they will enter CAP through a digital gateway and choose a category, or search for the product or service they need,” Sharpe wrote. “From there they will virtually ‘walk’ down a hallway which houses everything from subject expertise and data, to tools and on-demand procurement assistance. All of which is specific to exactly what they are looking to purchase. The hallways will house both advice and acquisition sources that governmentwide category managers have determined would help professionals make better buying decisions.”

One last point, the blog post seems to be the final piece to a year-long discussion with vendors, associations and agencies to put a finer point on the concept of category management. Now the hard work begins — implementation and education.

Reaction to category management has been cautiously optimistic.

Larry Allen, the president of Allen Federal Business Partners and a long-time GSA expert, said if the goal is to replace GSA Advantage then category management is a good thing.

“Advantage was great for what it was, but we need a 21st Century marketplace in the federal arena. A flexible emarketplace could be that,” he said. “I also like the idea of a collaborative library being available to share best practices. The key will be to drive people to use it. It has the potential to be a good tool, but only if potential users know about it. How will GSA do this? The market intelligence and clear view initiatives, I think, have a real risk of driving unintended consequences.”

Allen said the first concern is around how a database of “like buys” could work because pricing decisions have multiple variables and it would be difficult for any automated system to capture all of those inputs.

He said another concern is if contractors know their discounts will be made available to all agencies, then there may be less spot discounting and, therefore, the government may end up paying more than previously.

“GSA needs to be reminded of the old adage ‘If you lie down with dogs, you’re gonna get fleas.’ The agency will always be able to find people who will sell to you cheaply,” he said. “The question is whether GSA–or its customers–will be comfortable with the new company they keep.”

FAA, GSA kick off security, telecom acquisitions

Two interesting procurement actions came out over the last two weeks that you should know about.

The first is GSA’s request for information for the Network Services 2020 (NS2020) Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) acquisition initiative — one of six program areas under the umbrella program to replace the Networx telecommunications contract.

The second is a draft statement of work from the Federal Aviation Administration to run its security operations centers (SOC) under the Security Line of Business effort.

Wait, that still exists? This is one of the few mentions of the security LOB in the past five years around SOC shared services.

In fact, OMB’s own report to Congress on E-Government benefits doesn’t mention the security operations center as part of the LOB.

The FAA is one of eight agencies under the security LOB to provide shared services.

The Office of Management and Budget named four agencies — the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Public Debt; the Interior Department’s National Business Center; the Transportation Department’s Federal Aviation Administration Enterprise Service Center; and the Justice Department — in 2009 as shared service providers for certification and accreditation services.

It also named four agencies — the departments of Defense and State, the Agency for International Development and the Office of Personnel Management — in 2007 to provide Federal Information Security Management Act training.

Agencies have taken advantage of the Justice Department’s shared service for certification and accreditation, called Cyber Security Assessment and Management (CSAM), but there’s been less discussion about shared security operations centers. Additionally, a lot of the efforts around the Security LOB have been to set up blanket purchase agreements for different levels of security awareness training.

FAA is looking for operations and maintenance support for hardware and software platforms, tools to perform event correlation, data reduction and anomalous event detection, and situational awareness and an up-to-date snapshot of cyber events that are on-going within the world of cybersecurity

In reading the draft statement of work, it seems the FAA is looking to create a continuous monitoring shared service center, which would make a lot more sense given the requirement by OMB and the Homeland Security Department to move a more dynamic approach to cybersecurity.

Now why they just didn’t say that is unclear.

Comments to the draft SOW are due April 22.

One former DHS official says FAA may be making a play at servicing small and micro agencies under the CDM program. FAA recently lost one of its largest customers, the Education Department, which decided to bring a SOC in house. The former DHS official says they were surprised to see FAA come out with the draft RFP.

As for the NS2020 RFI, this is among the first specifics GSA has released about its new strategy.

GSA expects to issue a solicitation for EIS in spring of fiscal 2015 with a contract length of up to 15 years.

The RFI details eight categories of products and services under EIS, including voice and video, network security and equipment, data center and managed services.

“This scope is intended to allow agencies to acquire comprehensive solutions through the EIS ordering process without having to compete and integrate multiple procurement actions across multiple GSA or other vehicles,” GSA stated in the RFI.

Reponses to the RFI are due May 8.

GSA has said it’s using lessons from the arduous and delayed transition to Networx in the planning for NS2020. Agencies took about 33 months more than expected and the government ended up spending almost $400 million more than it should have for telecommunications services because of these delays, according to the Government Accountability Office.

It will be interesting to see industry reaction to this RFI. Telecommunications firms were frustrated with the Networx process, but pleased that agencies continued to pay them well as they transitioned mostly to like services instead of taking more advantage of new technologies and new approaches to telecommunications.

IT Job of the Week

This week’s winner is the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and its search for a new chief information officer. Rus Pittman held that role since May 2010. FDIC promoted Pittman to a new position as director of the Division of Information Technology. Martin Henning is the acting CIO and chief privacy officer.

In case you are interested in knowing what you may be getting into, Pittman outlined his priorities in April 2013, including a more specific focus on mission area IT improvements.


  • The Professional Services Council is hosting OMB’s Cobert on Tuesday to discuss security clearances in Arlington, Va.
  • On Thursday, AFFIRM has a good discussion on the future and evolving roles of the CIO featuring Kevin Cooke, HUD’s CIO; Simon Szykman, the outgoing Commerce CIO; David Bray, the FCC CIO; Paul Brubaker, DoD’s director of planning and performance management in the Office of the Deputy Chief Management Office; and former federal CIO Karen Evans.
  • The AFCEA Northern Virginia chapter is hosting Maj. Gen. Wendy Masiello, the Air Force’s outgoing deputy assistant security for contracting and nominee to be the next head of the Defense Contract Management Agency, on Friday.


March 28 — Inside the Reporter’s Notebook: DoD taking own path with cloud security, Treasury’s Reger joins OMB

March 14 — Inside the Reporter’s Notebook: USPS cloud credential exchange almost ready, flood of GSA contract protests

Feb. 28 — Inside the Reporter’s Notebook: CIO switching DHS components, HUD stuck in 2005

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