The administration’s category management acquisition gateway, a platform for a more unified and better organized federal procurement process, was opened Friday to citizens and contractors who want to peek inside.
Officials behind the gateway decided to open it to the public in the spirit of transparency and collaboration, so vendors, who play a crucial role in the acquisition process, and taxpayers can see the new online portal federal personnel have been using for the past year or so to explore existing acquisition information and solutions, collaborate on best practices, and make more effective and efficient buying decisions in a centralized manner.
“In terms of transparency into category management and being able to receive industry and the public’s insights into it, this is going to be a very exciting moment,” Laura Stanton, acting director of strategy management for Federal Acquisition Service within the General Services Administration, said during a press call with reporters. GSA, along with the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy, is working to iteratively develop the acquisition gateway.
Category management is a procurement philosophy developed in the private sector, in which the full range of products purchased by a company — or in GSA’s case the federal government — is broken down into broad categories, for example laptops, centralizing decision-making and allowing a strategic approach to purchasing. Its use for government acquisition was pioneered by the British.
The public-view of the gateway, officials said last week, looks almost identical to what federal acquisition personnel see when they log on. GSA’s Freedom of Information Act Office Division and Office of General Counsel checked the information on the public-view site to ensure it would not “substantially harm national defense or foreign policy, individual privacy interests, business proprietary interests, and the efficient operation of governmental functions,” a release says.
The information on the site is the same information that would be released in a FOIA request, essentially.
“The public will have access to as much of the Acquisition Gateway as possible and will experience the same user-centric design as federal users,” Tom Sharpe, commissioner of GSA Federal Acquisition Service, said in a statement. “The Gateway will enable that access while protecting the integrity of critical federal data and the security of private information supplied by contractors and others.”
With most of the same bells and whistles, like an “acquisition solutions finder” searching function, a library of executed statements of work from agencies, helpful articles from federal acquisition experts on critical topics, and a community feature that works almost like an integrated social media or chat board, visitors can get a pretty good sense of how the platform works.
The gateway’s slogan is “learn, connect, and act” — to help “acquisition professionals learn what they need to know, connect with others to collaborate and communicate, and act to accomplish their tasks effectively,” its mission statement reads.
“By integrating collaboration tools … we’re bringing together the idea of community and content at the same time to use like a LinkedIn or a Facebook model where instead of having a community conversation in one place and a bunch of resources in another, we’re really setting it up so … whatever you’ve accomplished, others can take advantage of, and vice versa,” said John Felleman, a senior innovation specialist overseeing the development of the gateway for GSA.
Officials say it was important to the administration that the public have as much access to the website as possible so citizens and vendors can not only have a better idea of what’s going on behind the scenes, but also offer ideas for improvement if they see anything that needs it. Industry pressed GSA and OMB for an opportunity to be involved in the development of the gateway, and the public version is a first attempt at that.
“We saw great value in having them as participants in some fashion and manner,” Chief Acquisition Officer Anne Rung said.
Felleman said the administration is looking to find more “ways to actually incorporate participation from the public in appropriate ways in the gateway so that the entire acquisition workforce, both in and out of government, can work as a team to make this process excellent.”
The public view of the gateway will be open indefinitely, according to GSA. Officials said during the media call that more than 5,000 federal employees have used the platform so far, and they hope to make it 10,000 by the year’s end.