Sealing the Deal

When we asked top procurement players to show their cards, here's what they said:

  1. If you face resistance, rely on higher powers to mandate change.
    Fred Downs, chief prosthetics and clinical logistics officer for the Veterans Health Administration, found that hospitals weren't always buying their supplies through the agencywide contracts he had negotiated for them. So he got the VA secretary to tell them they had to. "It's not a matter of saying, 'Pretty please.' It's a mandate," he says. Compliance rates have since improved and are close to the mandated 95 percent. He says he's saved $50 million to $60 million in four years, out of an annual budget of $1.2 billion, for supplies such as prosthetic limbs, blood pressure monitors and other hospital gear.
  2. Take it slow.
    After quickly bolstering strategic sourcing efforts at the Health and Human Services Department, project manager Kesa Russell plans to use fiscal 2006 as a time for adjustment. Through information sessions and Web site training, her team will teach employees what strategic sourcing is and why it's important, and will hold off on adding new commodities and services to the list of those already strategically sourced.
  3. Stay away from newfangled tools if they don't work for you.
    Tom Luedtke, NASA's assistant administrator for procurement, tends not to use reverse auctions, where vendors bid lower and lower prices to supply a good or service, because NASA doesn't buy a lot of simple commodities-the best candidates for reverse auctions. "We don't want to do something just because it looks neat when it ends up taking as much time and effort," he says.
  4. Train your staff.
    With a dwindling acquisition workforce, experienced contracting personnel aren't always easy to find. Ed Simpson, director of procurement at the Energy Department, started holding training sessions for contracting and program staff before they embark on a big award process. Experienced contracting officers attend, because other participants learn from their insights, he says.

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