A computer to track computers

Procurement reform was supposed to improve the way agencies bought and used

information technology. But Congress, the White House and agencies have

had little reliable data to determine if the reforms are working or if agencies

are complying with them.

The government's top procurement group wants to change that.

The Procurement Executive Council, composed of senior procurement officials

from across government, along with the Office of Federal Procurement Policy

and the General Services Administration, has begun to talk to vendors about

the proposed Federal Acquisition Management Information System (FAMIS),

which would better track the $200 billion the government spends on goods

and services every year. It would also provide timely information to Congress,

agencies and others about whether reforms have improved IT purchasing and

management.

The system would replace the aging and unreliable Federal Procurement Data

System (FPDS), operated by GSA's Government- wide Information Systems office.

Since 1978, the FPDS has collected information on what agencies have bought,

ranging from IT products and services to paper and pencils. The FPDS handles

more than 490,000 transactions a year, including procurement data submitted

by agencies and requests from the government and the public for reports

from the database.

But in the past several years, the types of information that agencies

need and the systems they use to collect that information have changed and

multiplied, leaving agencies, the private sector and Congress with an out-of-date

system to track federal purchasing.

"We either needed data to do our jobs or data to perform our missions that

we couldn't get out of the system," said David Litman, vice chairman of

the Procurement Executive Council. The FPDS does not collect information

on certain procurement actions that involve, for example, interagency memorandums

of understanding — agreements between agencies to use an existing contract

without creating a formal task order — and awards to small and minority-owned

businesses. The system also does not collect information on government purchase

card transactions, missing billions of dollars' worth of purchases every

year.

Without this data, agencies and Congress cannot determine if procurement

reforms enacted in the 1990s have improved the way government buys IT or

whether IT better supports agencies' missions.

To create the new FAMIS, the council, GSA and OFPP have formed a steering

committee to develop goals for the system and are collecting information

from vendors about how the system could work. The committee hopes to issue

a request for proposals by fall and have a new system operational by the

end of 2001, said Bill Mounts, director of international and commercial

systems acquisition at the Defense Department and the DOD representative

on the steering committee.

FAMIS should save agencies time, money and personnel that they now devote

to maintaining so-called feeder systems, which agencies have developed to

cull information from their procurement data before sending it on to the

FPDS. Agencies often use the feeder systems to collect information on particular

procurement requirements or goals, such as what percentage of an agency's

contracts are awarded to small and minority- owned businesses and whether

the agency is figuring vendor performance into its future contract awards.

Some agencies have dozens of systems and subsystems, which delays the

transfer of information to the FPDS by as much as six months and makes FPDS

reports unreliable, said Litman, who is senior procurement executive for

the Transportation Department's Office of the Secretary.

The older FPDS also slows down the collection of data whenever changes

are made to procurement laws and rules. When Congress enacts a new procurement

law or when OFPP or some other management agency changes a rule or the type

of information the FPDS should collect, agencies must reprogram every feeder

system, said Jack Finley, deputy director of governmentwide information

systems at GSA.

In addition to streamlining the back end, FAMIS also will have a more user-friendly

interface for agencies to input contract information into the system and

for users to download information about those contracts at any point in

the contracting process. This will make it easier for agencies to have a

single departmentwide system and will free up needed IT funds. "The opportunity

to put those funds to better use is going to be the central point of our

business case," Mounts said.

In the long run, by collecting procurement data that is more reflective

of the types of contracting practices agencies are using, and relaying that

information while a procurement is ongoing instead of after an award, FAMIS

should help agencies better link procurements to business needs. By doing

so, agencies can better determine if buying practices comply with the Government

Performance and Results Act — a 1993 law requiring agencies to tie purchases

to missions — and whether they are meeting guidelines for awarding a certain

percentage of work to small and minority-owned businesses.

"If [procurement executives are] going to be business leaders, we're

going to need the data to perform that leadership," Litman said.

FAMIS should also encourage agencies to try novel procurement practices

such as award-term contracting, which extends contracts when vendors provide

good performance, and share-in-savings contracting, in which vendors provide

part of the initial cost of a system in return for a share of the savings

that the system provides the agency. "It's difficult to use innovative business

practices if you don't know their impact," Litman said. "We've got to be

able to start capturing these changes in less than a two-year period."

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