House OK'd to use purchasing software

The inspector general of the House of Representatives has given approval for a product that will automate the procurement process for the House's IT purchases.

The IG told the House chief administrative officer he could roll out Procurement Desktop, which is manufactured by American Management Systems Inc. The House Chief Administrative Office— which manages IT purchases for all the members of the House, the committee staffs and the House leadership offices— acquired the IT tracking software almost three years ago and planned to test it in the House Information Resources division.

But it was not until late last month that the IG, after spending months reviewing the pilot project, gave the administrative office the go-ahead to use Procurement Desktop, which provides electronic forms for creating acquisition documents, including procurement requests, requests for quotes, requests for proposals and purchase orders. The product also includes a database of federal acquisition regulations.

The House already has paid less than $1 million for 100 licenses for Procurement Desktop, training and software enhancement, said Beth Palmer, the senior principal in AMS' procurement solutions group. She said she did not anticipate the House needing more than 100 licenses for the product.

Although the House's order for Procurement Desktop is relatively small, the potential rollout of the product to the entire administrative arm of the House— and potentially to the individual offices of members of Congress— could mean significant savings. Palmer said workers in the House now use a combination of procurement processes— from paper forms to homegrown spreadsheet applications— to track purchases.

"One of the benefits of Procurement Desktop is that it will standardize the process," Palmer said. "You can also control the organization better to make sure that all the purchasing offices are following standard procedures to see that all the contract forms they use are standard and have been approved."

In a report released last month, Inspector General John W. Lainhart IV urged the administrative office staff to plan carefully before rolling out the product to other components of the House.

The IG was particularly concerned that Procurement Desktop be fully functional, meeting all of the House's needs and avoiding "software deficiencies" that the administrative office had found in a version of the product being used by the Library of Congress.

Lainhart also urged the administrative office to continue to follow a detailed IG-approved policy for developing computer systems when Procurement Desktop is rolled out to other House offices— not just those offices that buy IT but also those that buy office supplies and furniture.

"During the initial phases of PD implementation, the House's [System Development Life Cycle] policy was not completely followed, and considerable delays were incurred," the IG report states. "In later phases, however, management made substantial progress in achieving compliance with the House SDLC policy. The PD Implementation Team has adopted and should continue to follow this policy."

Core to the policy is prioritization of individual projects; verification, validation and testing of the system; and training of users on the system.

The policy also places emphasis on documenting functional requirements for areas that will be included in the rollout of each application. It also focuses on analyzing the needs of software users and determining how best to meet those needs.

The report further states that following the policy "mitigates the risk that delays, unrealistic completion estimates, additional costs and inefficiencies that may occur in subsequent rollouts or enhancements."

According to the IG report, the House chief administrative officer, James M. Eagen III, concurred with the inspector general's recommendations for the rollout of Procurement Desktop. How well Eagen adheres to those recommendations could have an impact beyond the Chief Administrative Office.

"The CAO's current and planned actions are responsiveness to the issues we identified and, when fully implemented, should satisfy the intent of our recommendations," the IG report states. "In addition, it is feasible for PD to be implemented in other offices immediately after the [House Information Resources] implementation."

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