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What Procurement Must Do to Keep Pace with Government’s Promises to Taxpayers

When President Trump first took office, it was clear that the new administration expected government agencies to start buying IT more like “a business.” Nearly two years later, that directive has not changed. In fact, the White House wants a technology business management (TBM) framework to be embraced government-wide by 2022, a feat that is not feasible unless agencies first embrace a more modern procurement framework.

If the White House wants to change how agencies buy IT, infrastructure or any other system or service, it first needs to encourage broader investment in the technology required to more efficiently execute, track and evaluate every purchase. Adopting big business’ way of doing business is not going to stop agencies from wasting money now or in the future, which is every politician’s promise to his or her constituents. Nor will modeling procurement systems or organizational structures after private sector organizations necessarily increase government’s transparency levels or eliminate fraud and abuse. In fact, abandoning tried and true government buying practices may end up compounding our greatest procurement issues.

To innovate in a way that’s favorable to both our nation’s buyers and our “bottom line,” government leaders at all levels — not just procurement officials — must first understand four things:

  1. Government spending is not analyzed against a bottom line in the same way as traditional businesses. Every government acquisition, whether it’s a jet or inkjet printer ink, is a measured one that is dictated by numerous rigid laws and regulations to ensure fair and open competition. For that reason alone, government can’t behave like a business, much less buy like one.
  2. We must monitor and analyze spend at a deeper and broader level if we are going to achieve complete transparency, minimize waste and fulfill our promise to improve the nation’s fiscal health. This requires complete and simultaneous visibility into multiple government departments. Additionally, the capability to capture spend data in a manner that makes presentation and access for the taxpayer straightforward is paramount in meeting taxpayers’ increasing demands for transparency. An ERP-only environment cannot facilitate this level of visibility. Therefore, we need to place greater value on e-procurement technologies integrated to ERP.
  3. Public sector agencies don’t have endless funds available to utilize a trial-and-error approach to modernization like private sector counterparts. Our government has a constitutionally engrained responsibility to taxpayers to sustain the highest level of fiscal responsibility, which means we shouldn’t be dipping into “rainy day funds” to find a better way to spend money. We need to get it right the first time. We can’t afford to spend multiple project cycles, or valuable resources, fixing piecemeal technology systems or force-fitting “business market” ERP and app-centric models into a government environment. Remember: The best solution is often the simplest one. E-procurement technologies are easy to integrate on the back end and easy to on-board on the front end. 
  4. Agencies need to start collaborating more when it comes to technology utilization and procurement. It is time to put real effort behind the development and application of public — not private — sector best practices. We can be innovative, as long as that innovation doesn’t become disruptive or contrary to good public policy; such as fair and open competition, cost savings, and transparency. If every federal, state and local government would standardize on systems that fit the government “business” model, then the public sector won’t have to drain rainy day funds to get things done.

Brian Utley is president and CEO of Periscope Holdings.