Web site encourages exchange of acquisition ‘best practices’

Site prompts flow of ideas between government and private sector.

A Web site launched Thursday in compliance with an acquisition reform law enacted late last year will serve as a clearinghouse for suggestions on improving federal agencies' purchasing practices.

The site, called the online Acquisition Center of Excellence for Services, also contains links to federal procurement laws, policies and regulations, and a section on training opportunities. House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., required the Office of Management and Budget to establish such a center to identify "best practices in contracting for services in the public and private sectors" as part of acquisition reform language he wrapped into the 2004 Defense Authorization Act, signed in November 2003 (H.R. 1588).

At an event marking the center's launch, officials from OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, the General Services Administration, the Defense Acquisition University and industry groups praised Davis for his leadership. The Web site, developed over the past half year by OFPP in collaboration with other agencies and private sector groups, collects critical procurement information in one spot and stands to benefit contractors as well the federal acquisition workforce, said Robert Burton, associate administrator of OFPP.

The online center of excellence saves the procurement community time and effort by consolidating information, and also aligns with the General Services Administration's "Get It Right" initiative, an effort to ensure a balance between ethics considerations and the need for increased public and private sector interaction, said Karl Reichelt, GSA's chief acquisition officer.

Julia Wise, project coordinator for the online center, encouraged agencies and private sector companies to submit papers, presentations and any other information about best practices to OFPP. After a vetting process, links to the papers will appear on two separate sections of the site, to draw a clear distinction between government and industry best practices, she said.

The public-private partnership and collaboration fostered by the site will become all the more important as services contracting continues to grow, Burton said. The government spent $186 billion on services in fiscal 2003, a 46 percent increase over the $127 billion in services purchased in fiscal 2000, he noted.

Davis' 2004 Defense Authorization Act language mandates several other services acquisition reforms. Under the law, OFPP also must name a panel of at least nine procurement experts from a mix of backgrounds to complete a year-long review of federal acquisition laws and policies "with a view toward ensuring effective and appropriate use of commercial practices and performance-based contracting," and GSA must set up an acquisition workforce training fund.

OFPP is in the last stages of naming panel members and is planning an announcement in the next few weeks. Davis' law called for the panel to be named more than half a year ago but Davis would rather see OFPP put the "right people in place" than rush to meet the deadline, said Robert White, one of his spokesmen. "We understand that ramping up the panel is a difficult process," he said.

The administration is running behind schedule on the announcement because the "panel will have members from the private sector [and] we want to make sure that all potential conflicts of interest are appropriately addressed," according to an OMB official who asked to remain anonymous.

GSA set up the acquisition training fund several months ago, but little if any money has been disbursed yet, said David Drabkin, GSA's deputy associate administrator for acquisition policy, in a recent interview. Officials are still in the process of deciding how to prioritize spending, he said.

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