Customs works on buying

The Customs and Border Protection agency 's Acquisition Improvement Initiative is supposed produce a business-driven, customer-focused acquisition environment.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

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Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials are looking at ways to improve the process of buying goods and services so the agency can better focus on its operational mission.

They are about three months into an effort called the Acquisition Improvement Initiative (AI2) to design a business-driven, customer-focused acquisition environment.

"It's the basic concept of knowing where you're money is going and then finding a mature way to always spend it better, enhance industry relationships and customer service," said John Ely, executive director of CBP's procurement office.

Ely, who spoke with reporters after he briefed industry officials today at an event sponsored by Eagle Eye Publishing, said he considred it similar to a Capability Maturity Model, which is a framework software organizations use to improve themselves. Procurement personnel need to take a strategic view these days, as technology has enabled the process to become more automated, he added.

He said officials are drilling down into their processes and looking at the gaps, shortfalls and best practices. The goal is severalfold, including linking to a strategic plan, reducing the costs of goods and services procured and improving their quality, reducing internal costs and procurement cycles, improving accountability, and improving supplier relationships and customer satisfaction.

Right now, he said officials are only beginning to understand what the agency's money is spent on. The agency spent $2 billion on procurement in fiscal 2004 and knows where most of the money went, such as $409 million to information technology and telecommunications. But they are still trying to find out what $700 million was spent on. Ely said they will get that data in the next two months or so.

"This will take time," he said, adding he has support of the agency’s chief financial officer for AI2. "It's not a simple process. It's culture, it's time, it's labor hours."

He added that this will also be aligned with a initiative from Greg Rothwell, the Homeland Security Department’s chief procurement officer, to provide a single departmental face to the private sector regardless of the agency.