Comment -- Acquisition

Penny-pinching strategies sprout from collaboration

Experts propose ways agencies could reduce procurement costs

Saving money is on everybody’s mind, particularly here in government. From President Barack Obama’s recent SAVE Award initiative to new guidance from the Office of Management and Budget, government leaders and employees are looking for good ways to save a few dollars here and there, which could add up to millions or even billions.

On July 29, OMB issued a memo titled "Improving Government Acquisition" that, among other things, requires agencies to “(1) review their existing contracts and acquisition practices and develop a plan to save 7 percent of baseline contract spending by the end of [fiscal] 2011; and (2) reduce by 10 percent the share of dollars obligated in [fiscal] 2010 under new contract actions that are awarded with high-risk contracting authorities."

The 344 members of the GovLoop Acquisition 2.0 Group — who represent federal, state and local governments; the private sector; and academia — are focused on innovation in acquisition and generating ideas for improving efficiency and effectiveness and reducing costs in the acquisition process.

Some great examples are ideas developed by Andy Krzmarzick, a senior project coordinator at the Agriculture Department Graduate School. He suggested using low-cost Flip cameras or podcasting tools, such as TalkShoe.com or Audacity, to capture the knowledge of retiring contracting officials in a downloadable, mobile format. He also suggested having new employees or interns record interviews with seasoned staffers by asking them a comprehensive set of questions about their work.

Jaime Gracia, a government contracting consultant, recommended using Web 2.0 tools tools to improve communications between government and industry, which could lead to more clearly defined requirements for contracts and more realistic cost, schedule and performance objectives.

Ideas and suggestions posted by members of the GovLoop group are revealing and tend to fall into three areas: strategic actions, tactical actions and those requiring leadership involvement.

Suggestions include instituting unbiased reviews of contract requirements, contract types, activities and deliverables to weed out those that don’t directly contribute to meeting agencies’s missions and redefining ”mission” to ”core mission.” Agency leaders might conduct their own reviews to ensure that contracted activities align with overall mission delivery.

At the leadership level, it will take the combined efforts of agency leaders, chief acquisition officers, chief financial officers and program managers to implement some of the ideas for saving money.

OMB’s memo calls for long-term strategic changes yet describes short-term objectives. I believe one of the most effective strategies would be to better capitalize on our collective buying power for commonly purchased goods and services. The Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative was launched in November 2005 to do just that, and many agencies have come together to define requirements and acquisition strategies for things such as office supplies, express ground domestic delivery services and wireless telecommunications expense management programs.

However, we haven’t been able to negotiate the best deals for the government because we can’t get agencies to commit to using the solutions. We need to hold agencies accountable and review enterprise and interagency contracting actions for duplication and redundancy.

OMB’s memo has set an annual net savings target of $40 billion. I think it’s achievable. What ideas do you have?

About the Author

Mary Davie is assistant commissioner of the Office of Integrated Technology Services in the General Services Administration's Federal Acquisition Service.

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