Administration wants to change how government buys computers

Administration wants to change how government buys computers
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The Obama administration is clamping down on the way agencies buy laptop and desktop computers. 

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) late last week barred agencies from soliciting new computer contracts. Civilian agencies will now be required to buy computers through one of three bulk contracts.

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The plan is aimed at driving down costs. By 2018, three-quarters of all laptop and desktop spending is supposed to come through a few pre-approved contracts, according to the memo released Friday. 

“There is no need for thousands of contracts to purchase common laptops and desktops,” said Chief Information Officer Tony Scott and Chief Acquisition Officer Anne Rung in a blog post.  

Agencies spent about $1.1 billion on laptops and desktop computers in 2014. That came from more than 10,000 contracts, according to OMB. 

The office found that the price for the same computer configuration could range from between $450 to $1,300 depending on which agency bought it. Because of the decentralized nature of agency budgets, OMB compared the computer purchases to thousands of small businesses. 

“Instead of the government banding together as the world's largest buyer to negotiate better prices and terms, too often it buys like thousands of small businesses, making smaller awards for the same IT products across multiple agencies, and sometimes within a single organization,” according to the memo. 

The plan released last week will also cut down on the number of laptop and desktop options for most agency employees. Agencies will also be encouraged to buy new hardware during semiannual bulk government purchases. 

A review led by NASA found that about 80 percent of all agency employees could get their job done with one of five computer configurations, factoring in things like speed and memory. That includes two laptop configurations and three desktop configurations. 

The OMB said the directive is a step in implementing the Federal Information Technology Reform Act signed late last year, which changed the way the federal government purchases and manages information technology.