'Shared First:' Progress made, more work needed, Gordon says

Dan Gordon, the outgoing administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said in an interview Dec. 19 that the Obama administration's “Shared First” initiative could fulfill its promise of making the government a smarter buyer of IT services. The problem is getting people to embrace it.

“We’ve got a long way to go to get the ‘Shared First’ mentality into people’s DNA,” Gordon said.

The Shared First proposal is the foundation for the administration's Federal IT Shared Services Strategy. In essence, it’s figuring out which agency is handling a certain function or service successfully and letting it handle the work for other agencies as well, rather than leaving each agency to develop services on its own.

OMB's goal is to consolidate the delivery of common IT services across the federal government. The Shared First attempts to get agencies to collaborate their work across agency boundaries “rather than re-inventing the wheel,” Steven VanRoekel, federal CIO, said in a speech in October.

But Gordon said it will be tough to make agencies think that way. Efforts similar to Shared First have existed in various forms, particularly in procurement, but they weren't being used.

He said the administration is trying to change that through “persistence, communication and focus.”

Gordon’s office issued a memo in September that tells acquisition officials to stop, look and share before launching a new contract. He wrote in a memo that too often officials establish new interagency contracts, such as blanket purchase agreements (BPAs) and multiple agency contracts (MACs), before they consider what’s already out there. And, if there is no existing contract, they don’t think enough about using an agency-specific, MAC to get the buying power to lower costs.

The result: Costs go up.

Before the Shared First initiative, Gordon said, in the procurement community, the government had BPAs and MACs.

“The fact is, there were BPAs before we stepped in, but those BPAs, I know, were not widely used,” he said.

However, there is now enthusiasm for shared services among agencies, Gordon said. Federal officials and industry vendors had told Gordon they would be astonished if agencies spent more than $25 million in a year through strategic sourcing BPAs for office supplies.

“Can I tell you how much of our buy went through these BPAs last fiscal year? $199 million,” he said.

Now officials need to encourage it through Shared First. He said the result will be smarter buying.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments

Tue, Dec 27, 2011 Jaime Gracia Washington, DC

This is a great initiative that technically already exists; market research. The first thing that any program manager should do when verifying requirements, and subsequent acquisition strategies, is to see what has already been done across government. It is hard to fathom that another agency, or internal organization, has not previously purchased the desired product or service. Reinventing the wheel has become an art form across the federal government, and a notable common denominator in the creation of waste, fraud, and abuse.

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 Peter G. Tuttle, CPCM

The Shared First initiative with its focus on shared services is laudable. The thoughtful three phase approach that is articulated in the draft document looks grounded in common sense and appears achievable to some greater or lesser degree. One area I would encourage Federal leaders to seriously look at, especially when they start evaluating the sharing of business systems in the 3rd phase of Shared First, is which vendors supply those systems and if sharing will result in creating a "one size fits all" environment where only several vendor's solutions will be used by the entire Government. If this occurs (which is likely, given the Government's historical preference for large ERP-type solutions), the Government will fail to realize much in the way of cost savings and tie itself into stale technology for the foreseeable future. Focusing on cloud solutions should alleviate some of these concerns, since (theoretically) it should not matter which underlying business systems are used as long as data can be shared securely. This being said, use of cloud solutions should increase competitive opportunities for business system providers, both large and small, as long as the data to be shared is standardized and integration points are identified to the point that all providers know what is expected.

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