Government eCommerce: A Proposal for Austere Times

I think it’s time for another leap forward in how the Government approaches acquiring supplies. The commercial sector is replete with much of the stuff that supports business (office) operations. It has become accepted that Government warehouses stocked with these materials are not needed to ensure the smooth performance of daily operations. A lot of the acquisition of these goods is done outside the officially sanctioned Federal Government eCommerce sites. The US Government is losing visibility of where the money is going instead of channeling the business into its own transparent, made-to-suit Internet capabilities. Opportunity for intensely leveraged prices, streamlined business processes and strategic sourcing are being lost daily. Let’s just take one small leap this year and install customer product review capability in our Government on-line ordering platforms.

If we’re in the mood for more than that, here is another suggestion:

Only companies with a US Government contract are allowed to vie for the Government Purchase Card (GPC) business online within officially sanctioned US Government websites (e.g., DOD EMALL and GSA Advantage). At the same time, GPC holders can walk into any brick-and-mortar location to select items off the shelf at will or visit any commercial website and click with abandon. Commercial terms and warranties are completely acceptable when no one is looking evidently. The US Government needs to capture that walk-in business on its own eCommerce platforms for three reasons:

The data being collected on Government Purchase Card (GPC) usage is murky and incomplete. By consolidating GPC activity to officially sanctioned Government owned and operated eCommerce sites transparency on GPC usage can be achieved.
Compliance with laws and regulations concerning mandatory sources and socioeconomic program support can be monitored and enforced.
Channeling this tremendous volume of supplies […]

Has the Time for a Mandate Finally Arrived?

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 […]

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