FAS Commissioner Tom Sharpe

The Future FAS: Categorically the Right Thing to do for Taxpayers

When I was sworn in as the Commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service in February of 2013, I began my job with a clear goal: GSA should be recognized as the government’s buyer and the agency responsible for managing and improving how the government spends taxpayer dollars on behalf of citizens.

Our current, fragmented acquisition landscape leads to many agencies duplicating efforts and establishing redundant acquisition programs.  Today, there are more than 500 different departments and agencies all making purchases amounting to more than $500 billion annually. These redundancies are driving up our collective operating costs and needlessly wasting valuable taxpayer dollars.

To get the benefits of one, we must act as one.  In today’s government procurement marketplace, our customer agencies need GSA’s ability to mobilize federal-wide expertise and guidance to evaluate and select from the vast range of products and services available to them in support of their missions.  In order to help our partners navigate this complex market, we must provide federal buyers with ready access to, and expert analysis of, a full array of purchase and pricing data, qualified suppliers, acquisition vehicles and expanded services.Block of Text

The Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI) was the first step towards better managing this process, but it is not yet comprehensive enough to entirely fill the role. Here at GSA, with the support of the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), we’re taking it one step further by implementing category management. Category management takes the lessons we learned from FSSI and uses them to provide a coordinated, strategic approach to government-wide purchasing.

So… what is Category Management?

Category management is how the most successful Fortune 500 companies approach acquisition. Successful implementation leads to smarter decisions, better purchasing options and saved dollars.  Category management essentially looks at product or services categories the way a business might look at its own strategic business units, and then works on customizing purchase channels to better meet customer needs and market demands. Category management also provides deep-dive market analysis and addresses supply chain management; it can even help with changing behaviors, and reducing demand.

For FAS, this means we are identifying core categories of business around which we will develop a higher level of expertise, and then leveraging this expertise to direct and guide buyers to the best solutions for them, and ultimately those in the best interest of the taxpayers, regardless of where that solution comes from. Sometimes that solution will be a GSA contract vehicle and other times, it might be another agency’s contract vehicle.

Once implemented, category management can streamline government purchasing into controlled categories such as IT, professional services or travel. From there we can take a holistic view of the landscape and take action to reduce or eliminate redundancy and increase efficiency. Federal agencies will be able to rely on individual managers of each category for market intelligence and expert guidance in procuring goods and services in that category.

Category Management focuses on five key areas:

  • Optimizing contract vehicles & managing the landscape

  • Managing data collection and analysis

  • Leveraging supplier relationships

  • Maximizing customer relationships

  • Growing and sharing expertise

Specifically, category management guides federal agencies to the right solutions by easily and centrally locating acquisition vehicles, suppliers, past transactions and prices-paid data, which will help government buyers negotiate and make informed, data-driven purchase decisions.

Enter… the Common Acquisition Platform

If we want the federal government to buy smarter like a Fortune 500 company, we also have to ensure that our digital delivery services are the very best. That is why GSA is developing the Common Acquisition Platform (CAP).  This is a technology platform and strategy that will help deliver the benefits of category management and it will guide buyers through every step of the full acquisition process.

CAP will provide access and insights into transactional (purchasing/pricing) data from across government and reduce the need for maintaining redundant and duplicative acquisition vehicles, systems and tools.

GSA has a unique position in the government marketplace as a repository of purchasing information and expertise related to best practices, buying behaviors, and prices paid.  Through the CAP, GSA will make this information and expertise easily accessible online for all government buyers. We will help buyers navigate the process and the universe of purchasing options, thereby helping them to drive down prices, reduce price variability, and make smarter purchases.

Hallways leading to the Marketplace

Initially we are focusing on a concept we call “Category Hallways.”  Here is how the hallways will eventually work: Before any federal buyer goes out to the marketplace with a procurement, they will enter CAP through a digital gateway and choose a category, or search for the product or service they need.  From there they will virtually “walk” down a hallway which houses everything from subject expertise and data, to tools and on-demand procurement assistance.  All of this will be specific to exactly what they are looking to purchase.  The hallways will house both advice and acquisition sources that government-wide category managers have determined would help professionals make better buying decisions.  Over time, the hallways will be iteratively developed with services and capabilities needed to continuously improve acquisition outcomes:

  • Procurement Optimizer:  A comprehensive contract-comparison search engine that enhances competition for government acquisition

  • Market Intelligence Center:  Category-centric market research materials that guide purchase decisions based on category manager’s government-wide expertise

  • Clear View:  Real-time data on pricing and purchasing, as well as assessment tools that help provide a big-picture view of government and individual agency spending behavior

  • Collaborative Contracting Library:  Provides a resource to jump-start procurements with a central repository of exemplary contract work for complex buys compiled by community experts.

  • eMarketplace:  An eCommerce transaction platform for simple purchases

By streamlining and simplifying the federal acquisition process through category management and CAP’s expert decision support, GSA will help the government be more efficient while gathering the spending data we need to make smarter buying choices.

Federal procurement is complicated and challenging, to say the least. GSA wants to work with all of our stakeholders to make it easier for our partner agencies, saving valuable time, resources and budget dollars that can be redirected to support their unique missions and better serve the American people.

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