Government is the biggest purchaser in the world and need to start acting like it, according to federal experts who spoke at the ACT-IAC Executive Leadership Conference on Oct. 31.

“We are the largest buyer in the entire world. We don’t always act that way so we are trying to get agencies to move in that direction,” said Beth Angerman, executive director of the Unified Shared Service Management Office in the General Services Administration.

Angerman explained that much of her job is convincing agencies to share basic services that can be bought in bulk from the private sector, likening the process to convincing her two young children to share at home. She said that while most agencies like the idea of sharing, few want to sit down and actually map out what that sharing will look like.

“Let’s have at least one thing that we are truly moving to an as-a-service model or truly leveraging a commercial technology,” said Angerman.

“I agree with Beth that we need to share more,” said Lesley Field, deputy administrator for federal procurement policy in the Office of Management and Budget.

According to Field, the size and buying power of the U.S. government is often difficult for industry and even other governments to grasp.

“So in the category management initiative, we’re really looking at how we buy our common goods and services, and it’s about 65 percent. 65 percent of the $470 billion that we spend in a year is really for common goods and services,” said Field, adding that her agency is trying to push other agencies, when they can, to use the best-in-class system, which provides pre-vetted contracts for basic, universal services. “We’re doing a lot on the communication front, but you can’t do enough. It’s a big government, it’s a big ship to turn, but we’re making progress.”

According to Angerman, USSM is also driving toward finding common business needs across agencies through the Federal Integrated Business Framework.

“This methodology forces us to think about the outcomes in a common way,” said Angerman. “We can really buy as one government. We can all agree that we’re buying the same outcomes, and that’s what will hopefully lead to better technology in the space, it will help us get better processes and it will then allow us to get scale for the taxpayer.”

According to Angerman, legislation like the Modernizing Government Technology Act, can provide the resources necessary to invest in services from the private sector, rather than building things themselves.

“That’s where the MGT Act could be a real resource, which is we don’t have to build the whole thing, and we can buy the majority of it,” said Angerman. “It’s an investment to move toward a transformed state, and that access to capital can help us with that investment.”

According to Scott Cameron, acting assistant secretary for policy, management and budget at the Department of the Interior, complicated contracting process often result in the private sector charging the government more, as companies use that extra money to absorb the costs of the many contract bids they don’t win.

“Anything I think that would streamline, simplify the acquisition process is probably worth exploring,” said Cameron.

As part of these improvements, government also needs to create a space for industry to offer advice or point out holes in faulty systems, according to Cameron.

“I think one of the things that industry has to offer that’s hard for the government to do on its own is have an understanding of the latest tools, the latest methodologies, the latest techniques for business processes,” Cameron said. “On the government side of the relationship we need to create an environment where it’s easier for you to share those with us.”

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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