DHS to expand buying hub

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Expanding the Information Technology Acquisition Center (ITAC), a centralized buying hub for all IT hardware and software for the Homeland Security Department, is among top five priorities for the DHS chief procurement officer

ITAC, which was formed last year, would help the DHS chief information officer with "incredible visibility and strategic leverage" in buying technology for DHS, which amounts to about $5 billion of the $11 billion to $12 billion the department spends, said Greg Rothwell, DHS' chief procurement officer. Although different agencies might have distinct roles and different missions, a common need is IT, he added.

"And if you could somehow start bringing that together in terms of buying command, it would give [CIO] Steve Cooper even greater insight into what's going on so that he can say, 'Well, I agree with that,' or, 'Hey, that's not consistent with the architecture,' or, 'That's not consistent, but I could live with it for a few more years,' " said Rothwell, who spoke earlier this week to the Industry Advisory Council's Procurement and Acquisition Shared Interest Group.

"That's where I think there's a lot of value, not to mention the dollars you could save when you do that," he continued. "I just think we're really talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in savings in bringing this piece together."

ITAC is still in its formative stage. It's led by acting director Dan McLaughlin, who has about eight to 10 employees. Although it might take up to five years to fully staff the office, Rothwell said, in the interim, the General Services Administration is providing the "operational arms and legs ... under a DHS flag" through a memorandum of understanding. He said when an IT procurement comes through ITAC, McLaughlin will make a strategic decision about whether or not he has the resources to do it or if needs to use GSA.

ITAC is part of the Office of Procurement Operations, one of eight procurement shops within the department, but could eventually grow to be a ninth shop, Rothwell added.

Another major priority is fully supporting new DHS offices, such as the Science and Technology Directorate, the Information Analysis and Information Protection Directorate, the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, and the chief information officer's office, among others. These offices were created by Homeland Security Act of 2002.

Those 35 new offices spend about $2.2 billion annually, but they operate without a procurement shop to support them, said Rothwell, who established the Office of Procurement Operations as an answer. He said there are currently about 30 employees in that eighth shop. He wants a staff of 127.

"We have 10 people trying to manage a $2.2 billion spend," he said. "By contrast, if I could, the Coast Guard has a $1.5 billion spend and about 355 people. So if you believe that's correct — and they would argue that's probably less than they need — it kind of highlights one of the operational challenges that I had."

A third priority is to make the eight procurement shops behave as one. He said they're at different levels of staffing, support, training and equipment. On a grading scale of A to F, he said one shop scores an A, there are a few Cs, a few Ds and a few Fs. Rothwell is taking steps to improve the eight, such as ensuring there are uniform policies for unsolicited proposals and the procurement administrative lead time.

"We have some procurement offices that say a [competitively] negotiated buy of $1 million will take 180 days," he said. "We have others saying 30. Now, somebody is doing it wrong or is overstaffed ... or they're defining it wrong. We've got to make sure that we're all speaking the same language across the eight because we don't want to confuse the industry because you guys basically play with every one of the agencies and every one of the procurement shops, so there's got to be some sort of consistency."

Rothwell's fourth priority is projecting that behavior to the private sector. That has a lot to do with industry relations and using the DHS Web site and other applications to provide opportunities from all eight offices. "It's sort of a Walt Whitman thing: Man is only half himself, the other half is his image," he said.

A fifth priority is to bring the $14 million grants management program together and project one DHS face to grant recipients. Grants, he said, are done by virtually every DHS component, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Office of Domestic Preparedness, Transportation Security Administration, Coast Guard, Secret Service and others.

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