A computer to track computers
- By Diane Frank
- Jul 17, 2000
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
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multiplied, leaving agencies, the private sector and Congress with an out-of-date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
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."