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Posted by on Apr 18, 2014

FAS Chief Aims to Chart the Future of Government Buying

DigitalHallwayGSA wants to be the buying agency for the federal government—both now and in the future. To further consolidate what, in recent blog post, Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) chief Thomas Sharpe referred to as a “fragmented acquisition landscape” GSA is working on a new approach and establishing a new platform for government procurement; one he hopes will ensure that the government will “act as one” when buying.

Specifically, Sharpe is pushing the idea of category management, which—once implemented—would “guide federal agencies to the right solutions by easily and centrally locating acquisition vehicles, suppliers, past transactions and prices-paid data[.]”

So FAS is busy identifying core categories of business, such as complex IT and professional services, and developing its expertise. He reassured potential customers that by the time category management is unveiled, individual GSA managers of each category will be able to provide expert guidance and market intelligence to customer agencies.

All of this will be rolled out on the Common Acquisition Platform (CAP), billed as the next-generation technology platform and strategy for federal acquisition. The platform is intended to pull purchasing and pricing data from across the government and leverage it against GSA’s own expertise in buying behaviors in order to “guide buyers to the best solution.”

This concept is being referred to as the “category hallway” where a buyer chooses a category and proceeds down a hallway that contains information and expertise for a particular purchase. Over time, these hallways will be built out with more sophisticated capabilities such as an e-commerce solution and a contracting library of best practices.

Implementation of this initiative will take time, and GSA plans to release more details on its efforts in coming weeks. But ahead of a clearer picture of how category hallways will actually work, some questions seem in order.

Sharpe noted that category management is meant to drive government purchasing into “controlled categories.” Is category management a further attempt to commoditize professional services, similar to early OASIS efforts? Prices for professional services, particularly high end services, depend on what services were provided, and those are rarely the same. 

Further, labor categories, rates, and hours are essential ingredients to understanding price—those elements are not readily available in any database. The success of category management largely relies on the sharing of data from systems across the government; systems that numerous studies have shown to be significantly flawed. Does GSA run the risk that category managers will be “guiding buyers” based on questionable information? And how can GSA ensure data and system integrity? Especially when posting competitor prices within categories?

While GSA’s work in this area is commendable, these questions and challenges will have to be addressed and overcome as it aims to streamline the government purchasing process.

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