Purchase tracker to get smart

FPDS-NG site

In a continuing effort to cut redundant spending on information technology, the Bush administration this month met with IT industry executives to discuss the requirements for a new information system that would track the federal government's $200 billion in annual purchases and provide data to help reduce redundant buying.

An interagency team led by the General Services Administration plans to release a request for proposals July 25 for the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation (FPDS-NG). The system would replace the more than 20-year-old FPDS, which tracks government purchases of everything from pencils to multibillion-dollar IT systems. But the current FPDS has developed a reputation for inaccurate data on government purchases.

"It's a nice database, it's served its purpose for a number of years, but the world has changed," said Mike Sade, co-chairman of the Procurement Executives Council's technology working group, which is leading the development of the new system.

The next-generation system would enable government acquisition officials worldwide to input and access purchase data via the Web in near-real time.

Procurement data will go directly from an agency's financial or acquisition system to FPDS-NG instead of going through "too many hands," according to Sade. "Not all of those hands understand the procurement system."

With more accurate data, acquisition officials could assess purchase trends and how their agencies spend money. Contracting officers would be able to find similar procurements — either internally or at another agency — that they could combine with to drive down costs through bulk buys, said Sade, who also is director of acquisition management and procurement executive for the Commerce Department.

"We can start sharing better procurement data...and start doing some of the acquisition reform we've had planned," Sade said.

The next-generation system also will provide more information on how agencies are meeting socioeconomic goals and using purchase cards. It will eliminate more than 100 "feeder systems" that agencies currently use to transfer information from agency-specific systems to FPDS, each of which costs $16 million to $20 million a year to maintain.

The proposed Web-based system will provide contracting officers and managers across government with a basic HTML interface from which to submit and retrieve reports on all procurement data. The GSA team in charge of developing the system has asked vendors to propose solutions that include defining that interface, said Pat Brooks, program manager at GSA.

Agencies will be required to design their own acquisition and financial systems to match the vendor-defined interface to ensure a direct link between the agency systems and FPDS-NG, said John Cochran, the program's IT specialist.

Many agencies are updating or planning to update their acquisition and financial systems, so it should be easy for them to incorporate the interface that the FPDS-NG vendor will define, he said.

Several vendors at Commerce's July 11 Industry Day Conference raised concerns about the requirement that the system include no JavaScript, Macromedia Inc. Flash plug-ins or other special technology. But it is important to leave those and other technologies out of the solution, Cochran said. There is no way to tell what system or software every user has, and users will have neither the time nor the inclination to handle error messages or requests for downloads, he said.

The draft RFP, released June 26, is based on agencies' requirements, but the GSA team is relying on industry to propose the best solution, Brooks said.

"We really don't know what the potential solution may be," she said.

The draft RFP outlines four options for the type of solution a vendor could propose, ranging from a system entirely owned and operated by the government to one owned and operated by a contractor. But if other combinations could better serve the government's needs, GSA wants industry leaders to come forward with those ideas, Brooks said.

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Who's buying what?

Developers of the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation, which will replace the aging Federal Procurement Data System, hope to build a Web-based system that will better track agency purchases, including information technology. Some of the goals of the next-generation procurement data system include:

* Provide a simple, Web-based process to input and access data worldwide.

* Enable users to correct errors immediately.

* Give users immediate access to accurate data for strategic decision-making, planning and budgeting.

* Support up to 1,000 concurrent users.

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