Procurement reporting system being replaced

Federal Procurement Data Center

The General Services Administration is replacing its Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) with an entirely new system, designed to vastly improve the speed and accuracy of government sales data.

Agencies report information about their procurements, including the amount of money spent and the contractors involved, to the system. GSA's Federal Procurement Data Center operates FPDS.

The data is useful for procurement analysts, policymakers and others interested in where the government spends its money. But users of the current system, which is more than two decades old, say the data it provides is typically several months out of date and the accuracy is uncertain.

"The fourth-quarter 2002 data are not published yet," said Ray Bjorklund, vice president of market intelligence and chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources Inc. "For those of us who have clients anxious to know how the last year went, that was the end of September."

In addition, the FPDS Web site gets updated only once a year, he said. To get the data quarterly, Federal Sources has to buy CD-ROMs from GSA.

It's up to the agencies that provide the data to ensure its accuracy, Bjorklund added.

"It all boils down to what a procurement clerk has done to actually code the form," he said. If the clerk enters an incorrect code while reporting the data, the error can go unchecked and lead to inaccurate information.

"I ran across one back in December [2002] that really amused me," Bjorklund said. Due to an erroneous code, the system reported "that some citrus fruit company down in South Carolina had delivered some airborne radar equipment to the government."

To build the new system, called Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation, GSA has awarded a contract worth up to $24 million for seven years to Global Computer Enterprises (GCE) Inc., a small business in Gaithersburg, Md. The contract covers development of a Web-based system that GCE will operate on behalf of the government.

The company has some federal contracting experience but has not worked for GSA before, said President Ray Muslimani. To show the agency it could do the job, GCE built a working prototype system.

"We know what we can do. But unfortunately, the customer does not know anything about what we can do," Muslimani said. "We believe firmly that the way to get business is to go demonstrate for the customer, using prototyping as a vehicle to convince potential customers of the viability of the solutions we are proposing."

Despite having developed a pedigree through its work for other agencies, GCE officials believed the company's best shot with GSA was to invest some time into developing the prototype, he said.

"Other companies can come in and ride on their name. They have a certain amount of credibility just on the perception of their company," he said. "A small company is not going to be able to compete like that."

The prototype will serve as the foundation for the final product. The company has promised GSA that the system will be live by Oct. 1, an aggressive timeline made possible by the earlier work on the prototype, Muslimani said.

"They're so committed to that date that they're the only company that offered a negative incentive," said David Drabkin, deputy associate administrator for acquisition policy at GSA. "They're going to pay us if they don't make that date."

The Procurement Executives Council decided to work toward improving FPDS, Drabkin said. "The information was thought to be inaccurate, and it certainly was not timely," he said.

The degree of inaccuracy is in dispute, but not the need for more timely data, he added. "People argue back and forth [about the accuracy]. The latest study showed that it was over 90 percent accurate," Drabkin said. "But we typically wouldn't have the data in to close out a fiscal year until six or nine months after the fiscal year ended."

The council assembled a Rapid Improvement Team, sponsored by the Defense Department, to study options. The team concluded that replacing the antiquated system altogether would be the most expedient course.

GSA issued the final request for proposals for the project last October. "We were pleasantly surprised when we got 44 offers from 27 firms," Drabkin said. "We wanted to figure out what the best value would be for the government between, on one extreme, buying a solution and, on the other extreme, just buying a service."

The government settled on buying the system as a service, putting the onus of daily management on the vendor. GCE's prototype sealed the deal for the small firm, Drabkin said.

"It wasn't just [Microsoft Corp.] PowerPoint slides; they had a prototype that was working and already addressed about half of the issues that needed to be addressed," he said. "That's how small companies win in the federal marketplace. They take those kinds of gambles."

With the new system, agencies will be able to feed their data directly to it. Use of the system will be mandatory for all agencies, Drabkin said.

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