People get comfortable doing things a certain way and, even when it makes sense to change, they won’t unless they are compelled to do so. They become emotionally attached to their routine and don’t want to leave their comfort zone. Fear of the unknown, negative assumptions, not-a-good-time thinking and past failures are all reasons why change may not happen in the end. This truism holds within the Federal Government as well. In the public sector there’s the additional reason of doing things the same old way because—so far—no one has gotten in trouble. Not yet, anyway.
My observation from thirty-three years of experience working on the inside is that real change cannot be effected without a mandate. Usually these mandates come from Congress: Competition in Contracting Act (1984), the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (1994), the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (2002)—and have you seen the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act changes to acquisition? But it is possible for DOD and Federal Agencies to make policy changes on their own.
In the early days of the Internet the “If you build it, they will come” perspective of the advocates was tinged with a healthy dose of, “… if it’s really worth doing at all” from the skeptics. Websites like DOD EMALL and GSA Advantage soldiered on and have collectively captured over $1.5 billion in annual Government spending—all on small stuff, a few hundred bucks at a time. Now is the time for the Federal Government to recognize the value of what it has and leverage that value to get over the bar.
A policy mandate that requires Government Purchase Card holders to source their items in specific categories from these Government-owned, built-for-Government’s-purpose assets will give the Government the ability to:
- Capture the data about what Government Purchase Card holders are really buying.
- Leverage that total buying power through Strategic Sourcing (which is based on knowing what you are going to be buying LOTS of).
- Monitor for compliance to laws and regulations as well as appropriateness of items purchased.
While the perfect time to mandate use of US Government-sanctioned eCommerce platforms would have been when GPCs were first being issued, they emerged at about the same time, so it is not too late for a course correction.
By not issuing this mandate, the Federal Government is sending the message that GPC card holders have freedoms that the policy makers really don’t want them to have. In the Department of Defense, Purchase Card On-Line (PCOLS) has a data collection tool that has the stated purpose of monitoring for fraud, but the “sophisticated intelligent/learning software” (see PCOLS White Paper) in the Data Mining module will only be as good as the data within it. If GPC holders were required to seek what they needed on DOD EMALL or GSA Advantage first, the acquisition of supplies and the collection of this detail-rich data would be merged into one process, which would be a change for the better.
Next time we’ll talk about the question that I know is on your mind, “But what if I needed something that is not on DOD EMALL or GSA Advantage!?”