The General Services Administration‘s acquisition arm has a two-part strategy to operationalize the transactional data starting to flow in from new governmentwide acquisition contracts like STARS III and Polaris, Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner Sonny Hashmi said Thursday.
First FAS will create a capability to identify trends in data across the acquisition marketplace to get ahead of them, and secondly, the agency will deliver those insights in real-time to contracting and program officers.
FAS already had to do the former, when demand for personal protective equipment increased during the pandemic, to understand where the industrial base was and what policies needed to be implemented to find the right sources of supply for scarce items. The same is true when FAS wanted to better understand cybersecurity capabilities sold to the government, as well as the impact of certain sustainability policies.
“We have an incredible opportunity to use data like we’ve never done before — whether it’s data from the [Integrated Award] Environment, whether it’s data from category management, transactional operating systems like [GSA] Advantage, or even transactional acquisition solutions — to get that data in the hands of the decision-makers when they need them,” Hashmi said during a Coalition for Government Procurement event Thursday. “And that’s a gap that we haven’t quite overcome yet.”
Though FAS’s tool is being developed internally for its workforce, it will be made available to customer agencies to make them smarter buyers and companies, especially small disadvantaged businesses, to make them more competitive, he added.
Users will be able to run simple analyses like what the best sources of supply are for a particular requirement, where the best price determination is coming from, when to expect the biggest buying discount, and whether buying a particular quantity will yield a bigger discount.
“That analysis can be driven from the data that we have,” Hashmi said. “It’s just not available in tools that are readily available to our partners.”
Former FAS Commissioner Jim Williams expressed concern the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS) remains an “underutilized” tool for analyzing agency spending of funds, like those from the recent infrastructure bill, or comparing agency contract performance against that of governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs).
Williams said he was “disappointed” Polaris didn’t reward contractors that scored higher than a 3 out of 5 in CPARS, adding that the data should be used at the master and task order levels and strategically.
Hashmi agreed, saying CPARS first needs to be modernized to unlock its data and add more detailed data points. Polaris is more of a “balancing act” because its goal is to encourage new and small disadvantaged businesses to join the vehicle, and they’re disadvantaged at multiple points in the acquisition life cycle.
In addition to the in-house tool FAS is developing, more broadly the General Services Administration is working to improve the federalwide Acquisition Gateway and Buy.GSA.gov.
“That’s a lot of work,” Hashmi said. “Connecting those dots is a tough job, not just for data scientists, but also for designers and for systems engineers, so that’s our journey over the next three to four years.”