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Improving the Way the Government Buys IT

Today, OMB issued the first in a series of information technology commodity directives to improve how the Federal Government buys and manages IT commodities.

Today, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued the first in a series of information technology (IT) directives to improve how the Federal Government buys and manages one of the most common IT purchases made every year – basic laptops and desktops. 

From the start, this Administration has optimized IT spending to save taxpayers’ money by driving value and cost savings in Federal IT investments, and by delivering better services to American citizens. Through a combination of policy guidance and oversight, the Administration is committed to integrating modern technology solutions to enhance mission and service delivery. These efforts, ranging from the implementation and expansion of PortfolioStat, institution of the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy, consolidation of commodity IT, migration to shared services, and the launch Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI), have saved the Federal Government at least $2.7 billion since 2012. Still, there’s much work to get done.

In Fiscal Year 2014, agencies purchased basic laptops and desktops using thousands of contract and delivery orders, resulting in reduced buying power, duplication of contracts, and little transparency into the prices that agencies were paying for similar computers. OMB asked a group of interagency experts, led by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to identify ways to reduce waste in this area.  As a result of this work, OMB is directing agencies to take the following immediate steps:

  1. Reduce the number of contracts for laptops and desktops by prohibiting new awards and limiting purchasing to a small number of high-performing – or best-in-class – contracts;
  2. Standardize laptop and desktop configurations for common requirements; and
  3. Develop and modify demand management and business practices to optimize price and performance.

Reducing the Number of Contracts to Save Administrative Costs: There is no need for thousands of contracts to purchase common laptops and desktops.  Therefore, OMB is prohibiting agencies from issuing any new solicitations and directing civilian agencies to transition their expenses for laptops and desktops to three existing best value government-wide acquisition vehicles. These vehicles were awarded according to category management principles, an approach to better buying and managing the Federal Government’s vast goods and services more like a single enterprise. These solutions support the Government’s goals of increasing opportunities for small businesses as small business participation rates on these three solutions exceed the overall small business participation on all other laptop and desktop vehicles across Government. Moreover, annual evaluations of the performance of these solutions will ensure they continue to result in greater efficiency, effectiveness, and savings for the civilian agencies, and this list may be adjusted as appropriate.

Standardizing Configurations to Drive Savings:  Most Federal employees need just basic computing capability to get our jobs done, but we often have hundreds of options – or configurations – to choose from, which further fragments our position in the market.  So, the Administration is now standardizing configurations for a majority of the Federal Government’s basic laptop and desktop requirements. By spending fewer resources buying, managing, and maintaining a diverse hardware portfolio, agencies will be able to save costs and reduce duplication. Standardizing requirements will also improve interoperability and IT security and enable easy price comparisons. The NASA-led interagency working group will work across government to refresh the standard configurations every six months and evaluate emerging technologies, such as use of tablets and virtual infrastructure.  Information, such as contract terms and conditions, pricing, and other tools, will be shared on GSA’s Acquisition Gateway.

Implementing Smarter Business Practices to Optimize Price and Performance.  Today’s guidance outlines several good government practices as well.  OMB is directing agencies to develop and implement uniform refresh cycles for their laptops and desktops, which will enable more strategic and predictable budget requirements.  In addition, we are asking agencies to aggregate demand and participate in semi-annual buying events hosted by approved acquisition vehicles. These buying events will maximize the government’s collective buying power and drive further price reductions as volume increases.   

Improving IT commodity acquisition and management practices is a critical step in the implementation of Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) and in improving value to taxpayers. The actions described above will reduce duplication, improve pricing, and better leverage the government’s vast buying power.  OMB will closely track and monitor agency progress towards meeting these goals through the OMB PortfolioStat process and continue to work on the next series of policies to improve the management and acquisition of IT commodities. 

Anne Rung is the U.S. Chief Acquisition Officer.

Tony Scott is the U.S. Chief Information Officer.