The General Services Administration’s launch of a common acquisition platform to reduce wasteful practices in government procurement is well into its beta stage, but GSA officials leading the program’s rollout said there’s no grand and official unveiling scheduled.
Kevin Youel Page, GSA’s assistant commissioner for integrated award environment and common acquisition, said Monday at ACT-IAC’s Executive Leadership Conference though his office is currently hard at work developing several layers of the platform, “I don’t have firm timelines for when we’re going to have ubiquitous, end-to-end user experience and contracting.”
GSA’s common acquisition platform is a move toward a more efficient procurement style based on category management. Instead of asking procurement officers to become subject matter experts on anything their agency needs to buy, this system suggests that, somewhere out there in the government, somebody is an expert at procuring a given item.
Speaking on the panel with Youel Page, Tom Sharpe, GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service commissioner, said a common acquisition platform can relieve some of the stress and difficulty related to tightening budgets, a time when “flat is the new up for funding.”
“Right now, there are 61,000 people working in the federal government doing acquisitions on behalf of federal agencies, and many of them are working in a bubble without knowledge of what their counterparts across the government are doing,” Sharpe said. “They’re very clearly not acting as one. We’re operating like 500 different small businesses suboptimizing the purchasing power of the federal government.” He went on to call it “an incredible waste of human capital and money.”
The solution? “It’s as simple as acting as one,” Sharpe said.
“This is really the federal challenge,” Youel Page said. “How do we get the 61,000 people out there who individually are doing really smart things to provide their view and get them to take advantage of each other’s wisdom?” Somewhere deep in an agency, he said there’s likely someone already doing the exact thing other procurement officers need to get done. “There’s somebody splitting an atom on how to buy cloud services. You just need to find those people who know what they’re doing and bring them into light,” he said.
Those atom-splitters, as Youel Page called them, are vital to the common acquisition platform, and they’ll act as category managers, helping those less experienced with a certain topic navigate and procure it.
But interagency sharing may be easier in theory than in practice. Mary Davie, GSA’s assistant commissioner for integrated technology services, said category management won’t work unless agencies are unbiased or agnostic. Even GSA must be open to the idea that other agencies may have a better acquisition solutions for certain things, and those will be featured on the common acquisition platform as well an offering as well.
So far in its beta, the platform has three “hallways,” what GSA’s calls the different categories, for IT software, IT hardware and office supplies. But over the next year, said Laura Stanton, a director of the common acquisition platform, “what we’re going to be putting in this acquisition platform are a number of other categories; this tool is going to be expanding.”
Still, Stanton said there’s no set time period for the launch, but that’s because they want to do it the right way, she said.
“What you will see is a slow and daily update to the platform,” she said. “So as we find the appropriate pieces and we integrate them in, we’re not going to suddenly pull back the curtain. We want to make sure we do it the right way.”