Plans afoot to better track agency purchasing

Congress and the Clinton administration are moving forward with initiatives

to improve federal agencies' ability to track what they buy, how much they

pay and where the products or services are used.

Many agencies, with help from the General Services Administration and

industry, are trying to develop such tracking systems. But the real need

is to track the entire procurement process, from determination of need to

delivery of goods and services to payment, agency officials said. And there

are new requirements that need to be tracked, such as the goals for small,

small disadvantaged and woman-owned businesses.

"It's still pretty hard to tell what we got and whether we paid for

it once, twice or not at all," said David Drabkin, the new deputy associate

administrator for acquisition policy at GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy.

Now Congress has taken a direct step toward getting involved. The fiscal

2001 Defense Authorization Act signed by President Clinton late last month

included a requirement for a new process to track, manage and report information

technology purchases.

The Defense Department already has tracking systems in place, but General

Accounting Office and inspector general reviews have found those systems

lacking, said Matthew Blum, deputy associate administrator for the Office

of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget.

The new act requires that the Defense Department collect information

on procurements ranging from the type of products or services purchased

to the type of pricing used. It also requires that DOD create an annual

report on the information gathered and deliver it to Congress by March 15

each year, Blum said.

Congress is not alone in eyeing the procurement-tracking problem. The

many agency efforts to install improved tracking systems will be a high-priority

issue in the next administration because of the volume of contracting activities

occurring throughout the government, Blum said.

The issue will likely be prominent in an improvement-planning document

OFPP plans to submit to Congress next month based on a yearlong review

of the contracting environment.

On one key initiative, OMB now joins with GSA and the Procurement Executive

Council to redesign the Federal Procurement Data System, which is run by

GSA and tracks every procurement action across government. But the 20-year-old

system does not collect all of the information relevant to today's contracting

environment, and GSA is now gathering information from industry and agencies

on needed changes.

When the new system is deployed, it will make a huge difference in the

government's understanding of what it buys, Drabkin said, since it will

be designed to track every procurement action in every agency instead of

only those that existed when the system was first fielded.

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