ADMINISTRATION

Better Buying Through Social Media?

A new initiative invites suggestions to improve federal acquisitions online.

Robert Brodsky
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Robert Brodsky
Nov. 6, 2009, 7 p.m.

Do you have an idea for im­prov­ing the gov­ern­ment’s $528 bil­lion-a-year ac­quis­i­tion sys­tem? The Gen­er­al Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion wants you to share your plan with the world on an open web­site. It might even use your sug­ges­tion in a fu­ture pro­cure­ment.

Last month, GSA joined with a pair of private-sec­tor non­profit groups, the Amer­ic­an Coun­cil for Tech­no­logy-In­dustry Ad­vis­ory Coun­cil and the Na­tion­al Academy of Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion, to launch the Bet­ter Buy Pro­ject.

The ini­ti­at­ive is an ex­per­i­ment in how rap­idly ex­pand­ing so­cial-me­dia tools — such as Face­book, Twit­ter, and wi­kis — can be used to re­form the no­tori­ously stodgy gov­ern­ment pro­cure­ment sys­tem. Ap­pro­pri­ately, the idea was con­ceived through on­line con­ver­sa­tions on Gov­Loop.com, a so­cial-net­work­ing site for fed­er­al em­ploy­ees.

Vis­it­ors to Bet­ter­BuyPro­ject.com can re­gister, either by name or an­onym­ously, to post sug­ges­tions for mak­ing the fed­er­al ac­quis­i­tion sys­tem more par­ti­cip­at­ory, trans­par­ent, and col­lab­or­at­ive. Par­ti­cipants will also vote on the best ideas, and GSA of­fi­cials are already eval­u­at­ing the top-rated sug­ges­tions for pos­sible use on an up­com­ing con­tract.

“We are look­ing for any and all ideas,” says Mary Dav­ie, GSA’s as­sist­ant com­mis­sion­er for the Of­fice of As­sisted Ac­quis­i­tion Ser­vices. “There are so many people out there with good ideas to of­fer.”

Ini­tially, the pro­ject has fo­cused on the pre-award stage of the con­tract­ing pro­cess, when the gov­ern­ment de­term­ines what it wants to buy, how much it should pay, and what types of com­pan­ies should sub­mit bids. The web­site is di­vided in­to three se­quen­tial ac­quis­i­tion phases: mar­ket re­search and re­quire­ments, in which the buy­er’s needs are re­fined; pre-so­li­cit­a­tion, when the agency meets with the private sec­tor to dis­cuss po­ten­tial solu­tions; and so­li­cit­a­tion, the point at which the gov­ern­ment of­fi­cially no­ti­fies in­dustry of its pur­chase plans and seeks bids.

The pro­cess, al­though well-defined in a host of fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions, is rarely trans­par­ent and hardly col­lab­or­at­ive. Un­less an out­sider is deeply im­mersed in the ac­quis­i­tion sys­tem, it’s dif­fi­cult to find timely data on what the gov­ern­ment plans to pur­chase and from whom. Mean­while, agen­cies — and even some in­trade­part­ment­al of­fices — of­ten fail to share in­form­a­tion, even when buy­ing sim­il­ar goods and ser­vices.

The Bet­ter Buy Pro­ject’s de­velopers hope to im­prove the pro­cess us­ing the tools of Web 2.0 to en­able vir­tu­al in­ter­ac­tion on pur­chases. One par­ti­cipant, for ex­ample, sug­ges­ted that rather than trav­el­ing halfway across the coun­try to meet with po­ten­tial con­tract­ors, agen­cies could set up Web chats or live video streams. An­oth­er pro­posed us­ing Twit­ter to up­date the status of any pro­cure­ment in ex­cess of $10 mil­lion.

Al­though some of the sug­ges­tions may seem like no-brain­ers, re­forms are not al­ways easy to put in­to prac­tice in the highly reg­u­lated world of fed­er­al pro­cure­ment, says Es­th­er Bur­gess, who chairs an ac­quis­i­tion ad­vis­ory group at the Amer­ic­an Coun­cil for Tech­no­logy-In­dustry Ad­vis­ory Coun­cil. “These ideas may seem simple and in­tu­it­ive on their face, but the im­ple­ment­a­tion may ac­tu­ally be much more com­plic­ated.”

Peter Tuttle, a pro­ject par­ti­cipant/mod­er­at­or, says that the key to get­ting the ac­quis­i­tion work­force, which is older and more ex­per­i­enced than the so­cial-me­dia audi­ence, in­volved is to show how new on­line tools can im­prove ef­fi­ciency. “The ac­quis­i­tion com­munity is be­ing asked to do more con­tract modi­fic­a­tions and be­ing told to pro­duce more,” says Tuttle, a seni­or pro­cure­ment policy ana­lyst at Dis­trib­uted Solu­tions, based in Re­ston, Va. “So if this is per­ceived as something that will make it easi­er to get their jobs done, these tools could be very well re­ceived.”

In the first four and a half weeks, 56 par­ti­cipants offered ideas, with more than twice as many oth­er people mon­it­or­ing the activ­ity through Twit­ter up­dates. The web­site will be up for an in­def­in­ite peri­od, ac­cord­ing to Dav­ie. “We are look­ing to cre­ate a pro­cess,” she says, “not only to make the [pro­cure­ment] pro­cess more par­ti­cip­at­ory and trans­par­ent but to get bet­ter res­ults.”

What We're Following See More »
STARTS LEGAL FUND FOR WH STAFF
Trump to Begin Covering His Own Legal Bills
2 days ago
THE DETAILS
DISCUSSED THE MATTER FOR A NEW BOOK
Steele Says Follow the Money
2 days ago
STAFF PICKS

"Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who wrote the explosive dossier alleging ties between Donald Trump and Russia," says in a new book by The Guardian's Luke Harding that "Trump's land and hotel deals with Russians needed to be examined. ... Steele did not go into further detail, Harding said, but seemed to be referring to a 2008 home sale to the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. Richard Dearlove, who headed the UK foreign-intelligence unit MI6 between 1999 and 2004, said in April that Trump borrowed money from Russia for his business during the 2008 financial crisis."

Source:
BRITISH PUBLICIST CONNECTED TO TRUMP TOWER MEETING
Goldstone Ready to Meet with Mueller’s Team
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"The British publicist who helped set up the fateful meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a group of Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016 is ready to meet with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's office, according to several people familiar with the matter. Rob Goldstone has been living in Bangkok, Thailand, but has been communicating with Mueller's office through his lawyer, said a source close to Goldstone."

Source:
SPEAKING ON RUSSIAN STATE TV
Kislyak Says Trump Campaign Contacts Too Numerous to List
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak said on Wednesday that it would take him more than 20 minutes to name all of the Trump officials he's met with or spoken to on the phone. ... Kislyak made the remarks in a sprawling interview with Russia-1, a popular state-owned Russian television channel."

Source:
“BLOWING A SURE THING”
Sabato Moves Alabama to “Lean Democrat”
3 days ago
WHY WE CARE
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login