The Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the federal chief information officer’s office are paying close attention to how the General Services Administration fixes the System for Award Management (SAM).
Joe Jordan, the OFPP administrator, said Tuesday SAM is a critical piece to improving the way the government buys goods and services.
GSA launched SAM July 31 with the goal of consolidating eight acquisition databases, including the Central Contractor Registration, the Past Performance Information Retrieval System and six others. SAM immediately ran into trouble and GSA issued its contractor, IBM, a letter of concern.
GSA and IBM have added more servers and taken other steps to improve the system functionality. SAM now is in a better place.
“GSA has a lot of thinking to do before they implement future phases of SAM,” Jordan said yesterday after speaking at an event in Washington sponsored by the Coalition for Government Procurement. “OFPP is working hand-in-hand with them and CIO Steven VanRoekel, and other users such as DoD, to make sure the system moves forward in the right direction.”
Jordan wouldn’t say he was disappointed SAM didn’t come out of the gate working, but did applaud GSA for the steps it has and is taking to fix the system.
“We have made no decision on how to move forward with SAM in terms of changing the technology or anything in that regard,” Jordan said. “OFPP and the CIO’s office are absolutely going to partner with GSA and others as we move forward to figure out the best path.”
Initial concerns over SAM
The initial problems with SAM worried several agencies as they entered the final two months of fiscal 2012, which is typically the busiest buying time of the year.
The Defense Department issued a Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation deviation Aug. 21 that lets military contracting officers award contracts to companies who may not be registered in SAM. Additionally, contracting officers don’t have to check SAM to see if the companies are registered.
The notice also says contracting officers may accept representations and certifications after awarding a contract.
“This deviation provides a brief period of time for achieving resolution of the remaining issues and will remain in effect only until these actions are complete,” wrote Richard Ginman, DoD’s director of Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy.
Additionally, Ginman wrote that GSA reestablished the Excluded Parties List System website to ensure agencies are not awarding contracts to companies who have been suspended or debarred.
Jordan said SAM holds the key to dramatically improving federal acquisition because it holds the data, which agencies can analyze and make better decisions.
“Once SAM is fully operational and integrated, it will be the silver bullet in solving many of our problems we have with data,” he said.
Improving agency data and analytics is one of Jordan’s top priorities.
One of the biggest challenges he sees across government is awareness of data, of what the government is buying and of which companies are available to buy from.
“One of the biggest surprises for me in coming into this job is we can’t tell if agencies are paying different prices for the same or similar commodity goods,” Jordan said. “There is no place where this information lives, and we could be spending more money than we have to.”
OFPP developing central database of multiple award contracts
Along those same lines, Jordan said OFPP is progressing in developing a central database of multiple award contracts. He said this is one way his office is working with the Government Accountability Office to move interagency contracting off the high-risk list.
“The business case process for MACs has been a good first step for agencies,” he said. “We have to get a handle on where the contracts exist, how they are being used and by whom right away.”
Jordan said the tightening of agency budgets makes the need for collecting and analyzing data greater now than ever before.
The administration’s push for strategic sourcing fits into this need to understand and use the information.
Jordan didn’t address the question of whether the Office of Management and Budget would make strategic sourcing mandatory as acting Director Jeff Zients hinted at Friday.
He said agencies have saved millions through the office supplies strategic sourcing contract and 76 percent of the awards have gone to small firms.
“Small businesses should not feel like they are unable to compete,” he said. “They had an opportunity to compete to get on the [strategic sourcing] contract and some did and some didn’t.”
Industry executives expressed concern over the proliferation by agencies of using lowest price, technically acceptable as evaluation criteria instead of best value.
Jordan said he’s heard those concerns and OFPP is monitoring the use of this approach by agencies. He said he doesn’t expect to issue any policy around lowest, price technically acceptable at least in the near term.
“This is a tough area,” he said. “There are tricky incentives because industry wants best value because that potentially gives them a higher profit margin and other incentives, and agencies want lower prices. There are good arguments on both sides. We need to do some analysis and talk to DoD and see where the equilibrium lies.”
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, which airs from 6-8 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. region and online everywhere. Tom has 30 years experience in journalism, mostly in technology markets. Before coming to Federal News Radio, he was a long-serving editor-in-chief of Government Computer News and Washington Technology magazines.