OMB should lead category management efforts to improve contract data, GAO says

In a new report, GAO found OMB's category management initiative focused too much on how to buy things at the expense of helping agencies determine what goods and services they actually need.
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
The Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which houses the Office of Management and Budget. (Wikimedia Commons)

Efforts to improve contract data must be led by the Office of Management and Budget, if its category management initiative is to improve, according to the Government Accountability Office.

GAO found OMB‘s category management initiative focused too much on how to buy things — at the expense of helping agencies determine what goods and services they actually need — when it assessed data for 28 agencies, reviewed guidance for four and interviewed officials.

The category management initiative saved $27.3 billion in three years by having agencies use existing contracts to buy similar products and services like those in the IT Category, but billions more could be saved if OMB pursues governmentwide solutions to data challenges.

“Agency officials told GAO that data challenges—particularly challenges in collecting, analyzing, and sharing data on their spending and the prices they pay—have hindered implementation of the category management initiative,” reads GAO’s congressional report released Monday. “OMB is aware of these government-wide challenges and has directed agencies to take certain steps on their own to address them.”


But the Federal Data Strategy’s 2020 Action Plan tapped OMB to lead on category management issues, in part by establishing a committee to improve coordination of data policies, governance and resources.

Agencies are supposed to share prices-paid data on the General Services Administration‘s acquisition gateway and avoid vendor terms and conditions prohibiting such sharing.

GSA’s Category Management Project Management Office established a Quick Decisions Dashboard for prices-paid data on best-in-class contracts, but they only account for 10% of agencies’ spending on goods and services.

The System for Award Management will eventually replace the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS), the repository for government contract data. Meanwhile, agencies like the Air Force have attempted workarounds like combining data from their numerous contract writing, accounting and asset management systems.

“Agency officials told us that it would be helpful for OMB to provide additional guidance on how to move forward to address these issues, particularly if the planning involves shifting to similar internal record keeping systems,” reads the report.


Similarly, GAO found FPDS spending data isn’t granular, and OMB isn’t currently pursuing governmentwide solutions.

Among GAO’s recommendations were that OMB report cost savings by agency, establish performance metrics for agency requirements, and work with the Chief Data Officers Council to create a strategic plan coordinating agencies’ response to data challenges.

Despite agreeing with the recommendations, OMB pointed out in its response that it launched the Information Technology Vendor Management Office with GSA, the Department of Health and Human Services and NASA in October to address some category management information challenges.

“This new office will work with agencies to standardize technical and contract requirements, mitigate cyber-risk, improve data quality, and leverage buying practices and strategies that help small businesses compete more effectively for work,” wrote Michael Wooten, administrator for federal procurement policy, in his response.

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