As the Federal government continues to focus on cutting acquisition costs by establishing a centralized purchasing platform, the term “Category Management” is gaining increasing traction in the Industry.

The General Services Administration (GSA) is leading the “Category Management” charge by spearheading the Common Acquisition Platform (CAP).  The CAP Vision as described by GSA is a multi-pronged effort to make procurement faster, easier, and more cost-effective by improving efficiency through process improvement and better informed buyers.  CAP has numerous objectives, but none is more urgent than the need to eliminate waste and cut costs in government procurement.  GSA has tackled this issue with unprecedented gusto by arranging the categories of largest spend into a centralized, agency-friendly digital procurement superhighway.

The CAP website is oriented around a network of category “hallways” that comprehensively guide an agency down virtual “corridors” to the most relevant available products and services based on the agency’s need.   This Government-wide initiative is expected to reduce excess, duplication, and inconsistency and increase cost effectiveness, transparency, and purchasing power.  GSA realizes that smarter purchasing comes through educating potential buyers.  Consequently, GSA has placed strong emphasis on empowering purchasers by sharing knowledge and best practices within these hallways.  A more collective effort means that each agency gains negotiating power that it could not gain individually.

Centralization begins with identifying distinct areas of acquisition.  Goods and services under CAP have been narrowed down to 10 “super categories,” or categories of common spend.  These have been established by the Strategic Sourcing Leadership Council (SSLC), which has been tasked with identifying the most common groups of products and services from the vast total number. The SSLC is comprised of the largest spending government agencies, and is therefore the most knowledgeable and best equipped to set an example to smaller agencies.  The following is the list of the ten super categories established by the SSLC in order of the total volume spent in each category in fiscal year 2013.

Facilities and Construction$72.1
Professional Services$64.4
Information Technology$47.4
Transportation and Logistics$34.1
Industrial Products and Services$11.8
Security and Protection$4.8
Human Capital$3.6
Travel and Lodging$3.6
Office Management$2.1

Some of these categories appear more specialized than others, so it remains to be seen if these CAP “hallways” will be further narrowed in the future.  For example, “Professional Services,” casts a wider net than Travel and Lodging, with Legal, Technical, Financial, Public Relations, and Marketing services all lumped into a single category.  This suggests there may be some disparity in the scope of specialization for each category.  Tom Sharpe, the commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, has hinted that mistakes will be made when bold new initiatives are implemented, and that GSA is prepared to recognize mistakes and respond to them quickly.  As such, ongoing changes to the new CAP initiatives should not come as a surprise to agencies or vendors.  However, Sharpe sees occasional mistakes as a far better alternative than to remain in the government procurement status quo of inefficiency and duplication.  There is little doubt that Category Management has already made great strides in bringing order to the chaos of the acquisition landscape.

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