Seaport-e reflects push for transparency, efficiency

The Navy's Seaport Enhanced multiple-award contract just might be the test case for how the Defense Department plans to change the way it buys services.

The four-year support services contract, worth potentially $20 billion, features transparency about the task orders and money being spent both internally to the military services and agencies, and externally to more than 600 vendors.

"The Navy has been able to effect significant change by looking at all different elements to improve procurement," said Peter Fogelsanger, director for Aquilent Inc. of Laurel, Md. The company provides the Navy with an online procurement system for Seaport-e that lets vendors interact with government more easily.

"They are not just looking at technology or policy, but the intersection of people and how ... they get their end customer and vendors to embrace processes," he said. "Policies have to be consistent across the Navy, and technology is a huge enabler to make other things work well."

The Navy's accidental pilot follows closely the larger plan Shay Assad, director of Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy, has in mind.

Assad, speaking at a conference sponsored by the Contract Services Association of America of Arlington, Va., said he is focusing on getting information systems to the warfighter and managing the procurement processes more efficiently.

Assad's office is identifying what services the military branches buy and will put them into portfolios. Defense officials will then decide on best practices to use for buying them, he said.

"All cards are on the table, and we will try to take the best approach," Assad said. "We spend more on services than major weapon systems, so it is important for us to manage how we buy services and make sure we create competition."

The amount the Defense Department spends on services has increased steadily over the past decade. In fiscal 2006, the agency spent $146 billion on services, including between $3 billion and $4 billion with the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service and $13 billion to $15 billion on GSA's Federal Supply Service schedules, Assad said. The Defense Department's total procurement budget for 2005 was $268 billion, and for 2006 it will likely have increased.

Stan Soloway, a former defense procurement official and now president of the Professional Services Council, an industry trade association in Arlington, Va., said this latest attempt by Assad is part of the Defense Department's evolving recognition that buying services is more complex and varied than previously thought.

"How you buy and manage different services, what oversight is needed, the types of contracting vehicles and the acquisition strategy you will need all will vary depending on what you are buying," he said.

Assad has asked PSC to work with his office to identify the services the Defense Department buys and how best to buy them. PSC will present findings to Assad sometime in January, Soloway said.

The Defense Department's move to improve service buying is similar to what agencies are doing with strategic sourcing of products, which is designed to improve efficiency and lower costs, better manage contracts, and change consumption of the services by knowing what you are buying and when, Fogelsanger said.

Jason Miller is an assistant managing editor for Government Computer News. He can be reached at jmiller@postnewsweektech.com.

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