Agencies may want to modernize their IT, but they won’t be able to if they can’t actually acquire the latest and greatest commercial technologies in the first place.
That’s why the General Services Administration is aiming to make the acquisition process for federal agencies more innovative. Although many of the GSA’s initiatives are in their early stages, the agency is signaling that it wants to streamline acquisition and give agencies easier access to new technologies.
The GSA is banking on the wider adoption of shared services, a new e-commerce portal for acquisition and efforts to identify new technologies as part of its overall effort to focus on delivering tools that will help agencies modernize and achieve their missions.
Kay Ely, the assistant commissioner for the GSA’s Office of Information Technology Category, said earlier this month at FedScoop’s IT Modernization Summit that the agency must focus on performance-based acquisition practices that shift away from fixed procurement requirements to an approach that focuses on ultimate objective to promote more collaboration with industry, FedScoop notes.
“We really have to get into the business of, ‘Here’s our objective, here’s what we are trying to achieve.’ Start with success in mind; focus on the what, not the how,” she said.
GSA Will Turn to Shared Services, Portals to Change Acquisition
How is the GSA going to achieve that objective? GSA Administrator Emily Murphy laid out the agency’s approach last month during an appearance at the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council’s Acquisition Excellence conference.
“Acquisition innovation and technological innovation go hand in hand,” Murphy said, according to FedScoop. “The priorities that I have outlined — reducing duplication, increasing competition and improving transparency — can be accomplished through several key programs and initiatives that GSA is currently working on. These efforts also directly affect and involve the federal acquisition community.”
First, the GSA is going to focus more on shared services. The President’s Management Agenda emphasizes shared services, urging agencies to “move to a more secure, agile, and cost-effective infrastructure, much of which will be provided by shared services.” Shared services were also a key element of the White House’s IT modernization report, released in December.
In February, the GSA merged the Unified Shared Services Management office and the Office of Executive Councils to form the Office of Shared Solutions and Performance Improvement. The GSA bills the new office as “the first ever government-wide management and oversight operating model for mission support functions including financial management, human resources, acquisitions, grants and information technology.”
Murphy said the GSA is working off of a 10-year plan to build the shared service approach with the new office. “The 10-year plan starts with doing an assessment of what the current standards are for services at each agency. So making sure we all agree on what it is we are trying to buy,” she said, according to FedScoop.
The GSA wants to create “transition fee structures” to ensure agencies aren’t locked into contracts, FedScoop reports. The GSA is also exploring whether shared services could apply to different areas identified by the Office of Management and Budget, ranging from payroll services to a contract writing system, Murphy said.
Meanwhile, in March, the GSA and the OMB issued an implementation plan to establish a program that would allow agencies to procure commercial products directly through commercial e-commerce portals.
The GSA and the OMB are recommending four legislative changes to help the process. They include increasing the micro-purchase threshold to $25,000 to facilitate easy product comparisons to simplify purchases made under the program; empowering the GSA to develop modernized competition requirements for the program; authorizing the GSA to take advantage of contractual arrangements that maximize efficiency for buyers, portal providers and sellers; and clarifying and broadening the definition of “commercial e-commerce portals” to take advantage of current and future business models.
The idea is to make the GSA a “portal of portals” that can locate the best price across e-commerce providers. “Instead of having six or seven different commercial portals available and making it the job of the contracting officer or ordering officials to figure out which portal they are going to use, could we create almost like a Kayak-like experience where you go, look for one item and it would pull from all the various different portals,” Murphy said, according to FedScoop.
Finally, the GSA has been talking with the Small Business Administration about ways to manage Phase 3 awards for its Small Business Innovation Research program, which identifies new innovations through research and development grants. The program offers three tiers of R&D funding for new technologies, FedScoop reports, but Murphy said the GSA could aid the SBA in the latter stages, when those technologies are close to market.
“That might be a really good sweet spot for GSA,” she said. “Because by the time the product is in Phase 3 of the [SBIR] program, it’s hit a commercialization point. So, it’s something that GSA has had experience with and gives us a pipeline to bring innovative technologies into our contract vehicles, as well as assisting agencies in getting their products and services quickly.”