Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament dominate the London skyline.

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament dominate the London skyline.

Agencies Discover the Limits of a U.K. Procurement Model

Category management offers promise for streamlining procurement, but that could take another decade.

The Obama administration’s efforts to streamline federal purchasing have included something called category management—essentially organizing products into groupings that can be managed more efficiently as business units to maximize savings. That approach was inspired by a similar program in place in the United Kingdom. But Anne Rung, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said on Tuesday there are important differences between the two governments that make direct comparisons difficult. The U.K. government “is smaller than us, they hired full-time category managers and got permission to pay extremely high salaries to run a centralized buying shop,” she said at the 2016 acquisition conference of the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council.

Launched a year ago, the U.S. government’s category management effort is run by an interagency council, which now has chief executives for 10 categories of common agency purchases and an online portal being used by 6,500 federal purchasing employees, Rung said. With $2 billion in savings and a reduction in the total number of contracts, “it’s driving greater efficiency in the $10 billion spent each year on personal computers, software and mobile devices.”

She noted an Air Force program in Alabama that uses data analytics to inventory all computers and praised agencies that have standardized their computer configurations to cut PC prices by as much as 50 percent.

“I’m heartened by what I see,” she said, but noted the U.S. model could take a decade to mature.

“Technology is changing so rapidly, the question is: Have we simplified our federal acquisition space to keep pace with technological change?” she said. “The answer is: Not yet.” But there are positive signs. She cited rising contract competition rates, meeting small business goals for the third consecutive year, lower spending and the Government Accountability Office’s decision to remove interagency contracting from its high-risk list.

“More needs to be done,” she added, citing improved workforce training in debriefings for companies that lose out on contract bids, which is “an important element in attracting companies and keeping them in the marketplace.”

She ended her remarks with a tribute: “The great news is that we have faced challenges and threats that have required acquisition and technology excellence – from stopping the spread of Ebola to fighting wars. And despite reductions in agency budgets, government shutdowns, and threats to our nation, our acquisition and IT workforce – and our industry partners – have shown that we can successfully deliver important services to citizens around the world.”