Federal buyers have a new 'co-pilot' to get good deals for government

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The new Procurement Co-Pilot brings data together from across the government — something that’s historically been difficult to do.

Last week, the White House’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy and General Services Administration launched the Procurement Co-Pilot, which officials are calling the first-ever government-wide tool for acquisition market research for federal users. 

“Powered by data coming from all across the government,” the tool is the outcome of multi-year efforts to connect contracting officials with data, Christine Harada, senior advisor for the Office of Federal Procurement Policy who is currently performing the duties of the OFPP administrator, told Nextgov/FCW.

It’s part of the Hi-Def Initiative, an acquisition data management strategy launched via an OMB circular last month. And that data framework, in turn, falls under the Biden Administration’s Better Contracting Initiative, which is aimed at getting the government better deals on the $700 billion it spends annually on goods and services. 

For now, the co-pilot tool — beta-launched last fall fully opening more recently — is focused on products only, not services, which are more difficult to standardize data around, said Kristen Wilson, strategic acquisition data management lead at OMB. The plan is to expand the tool’s scope over time.

Still, the tool as it is is “unique,” she said, “because it’s bringing together all of this disparate data from across the enterprise into one single tool.”

The online tool is meant to help feds with information on prices paid for products, said Harada, to answer questions for contracting officers and program managers like, “Where can I buy it? How much should I expect to pay for it?” and, “When’s the best time to buy it?”

Other features include the ability to compare products and contact vehicles, said Harada, and see a profile of what work a given vendor has done for the government. 

The tool’s creators had to grapple with the size of the government as they built it, said Harada.

“There are well over 80 billion acquisition data points each year,” she said. “And across the 24 [Chief Financial Officers Act] agencies, there are 170 contract writing systems and 15 payment processing systems.”

Getting the infrastructure and contract terms and conditions to collect the data has also been a challenge, said Wilson. 

“Federal acquisition data resides in disparate systems across public and commercial domains, leading to acquisition data and tools that are overly siloed and challenging to navigate,” a government website on the Hi-Def Initiative states.

The co-pilot is the result of better technology to make the solution as well as a more mature enterprise, according to Harada, who said that category management alone — an effort that dates back to the 2010’s — was like “fighting a whole bunch of wet cats trying to get the agencies to collaborate.”

“This is just the beginning,” she said of the tool. “We want to make sure that we are leveraging [government data] to the best of our abilities, as much as possible, not just from a workflow and efficiency perspective, but ensuring that we are getting the best bang for our buck, if you will, and providing the best taxpayer dollar stewardship.”