DHS Special Report | Dept. getting a handle on procurement

Eagle, FirstSource vehicles to mesh procurement with enterprise architecture

The Homeland Security Department has reined in the eight disparate procurement offices that had made it nearly impossible to control what kind of technology its directorates purchased.

Following the turf wars that erupted when Congress created the department in 2003'and seven procurement shops arrived with the combined agencies'officials are seeing the fruits of their hard-fought battles. The procurement reforms promise to promote compliance with DHS' enterprise architecture, which will enhance standardization and capabilities for information sharing.

And as the procurement process becomes more efficient, it will increasingly help, rather than hinder, other DHS technology projects.

'From the vendors' perspective, in some cases they have had to knock on eight different doors to ... do business with Homeland Security,' said Mui Erkun, the chief procurement officer's chief of staff.

Staff increase

The headquarters technology purchasing group, the IT Acquisition Center, has grown from three federal employees to more than 30 procurement specialists, according to its director, Daniel McLaughlin.

The staffing increase came about partly as a result of pressure from the department's first chief procurement officer, Greg Rothwell.

ITAC forms part of the department's strategic-sourcing program, which has created 14 commodities councils to centralize purchasing of products ranging from weapons to boats to office supplies.

ITAC's most important projects now are the Eagle and FirstSource procurements. DHS is reviewing industry proposals for both projects.

Eagle and FirstSource replace a now-defunct $5 billion centralized procurement plan known as Security, Planning and Integrated Resources for Information Technology. DHS cancelled Spirit in August 2004, about a year into the project.

Eagle, also known as Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading Edge solutions, is intended for agencywide IT support services. Industry analysts peg Eagle's value at $6 billion annually.

FirstSource, which industry sources estimate at $2 billion annually, will become DHS' vehicle for buying technology commodities.

All DHS purchasing offices will use Eagle and FirstSource, although they will also be permitted to use other contract vehicles. A loophole in the contract will permit other, non-DHS agencies to use the contracts as well. Though not a governmentwide acquisition contract, a provision says any agency with a homeland security need may purchase products or services off the schedule.

The two contracts will let agencies structure competitive procurements from approved vendors and then issue task orders for specific IT goods and services.

Taken together, Eagle and FirstSource could consolidate as much as 90 percent of the department's technology purchasing. Both contracts will limit their offerings to goods and services that comply with the department's enterprise architecture.

As the department has reinforced ITAC's ranks, the purchasing office has gained the ability to manage more of DHS' procurement work and reduce its reliance on outside agencies for acquisition services. Officials and vendors alike say bringing more procurement in-house has reduced the department's IT acquisition costs and given it more control over the process.

Vendors have noticed the increased effectiveness. Judy Marks, president of Lockheed Martin Transportation Security Solutions said, 'I think we have seen more and more streamlined procurement process as DHS has matured.'

On a similar note, Bruce Walker, Northrop Grumman Corp.'s vice president for homeland security strategy, said, 'I think the procurement activities in the department's initial phase were a real challenge. It was a swirling maelstrom. ... Plus, there were so many systems that had to be stood up, including e-mail, archiving, document systems, account, supply, personnel finance and budgeting. There are a number of those that are in pretty good shape, and some are still works in progress.'

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