Congress looks for 'culture change' in GSA's tracking ability

Congress will consider legislation to further modernize the General Service Administration's procurement database as part of a 'culture change' at the government's chief purchasing agency, a key senator said yesterday.

Speaking after a hearing, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information and International Security, said he will hold more hearings and offer legislation to help agencies better track the more than $300 billion the government spends on procurement each year.

Citing both GSA's Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation (FPDS-NG) and the 13 purchasing funds that compete with the agency, Coburn said GSA must create a reliable system and prove it can buy the best products at the best prices. Right now, that is not the case, he said.

'One thing that kind of concerned me is they're creating the database, but they're not getting good information to help them make the best decisions,' Coburn said. 'Nobody in the private sector would create a data system that couldn't tell them the price, quantity, value and services. And that's what we really heard, is that this federal [procurement] data system isn't going to do it.'

Two days before the hearing, the Government Accountability Office raised concerns to the Office of Management and Budget that the FPDS-NG may not be providing accurate and timely data.

During the hearing, GSA administrator Stephen Perry agreed that the data system currently has limitations but said the agency is taking interim steps to better track spending information. Perry said GSA employees currently make data calls to customers to follow up on how products and vendors are working. Also, in response to the GAO report, GSA said new software expected early next year should improve the system's reporting capability and efficiency.

Perry said Congress needs to pass legislation that would formally approve the merger between GSA's Federal Technology and Federal Supply services into the Federal Acquisition Service and also promote consolidating the government's procurement responsibilities into GSA.

While expanding GSA to handle the growing volume of purchases, the government should consider taking the 13 funds that have purchasing authority and placing those employees within GSA, he said.

Perry already has floated this idea as part of the Office of Management and Budget's Line of Business consolidation initiative earlier this year.

The FAS bill, which passed the House earlier this year, is still pending before the full Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, and Coburn said he will urge committee chairwoman Susan Collins (Maine) to bring the bill for a vote.

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