House Inspector General (IG) Michael Ptasienski recommended “centralizing procurement for commodity items and standardizing office technology and support” at a Committee on the Modernization of Congress hearing on Nov. 15.
The hearing, Administrative Efficiencies: Exploring Options to Streamline Operations in the U.S. House of Representatives, focused on improving House administration. Ptasienski and other witnesses pointed out how administrative efficiency could improve IT and save costs.
“There’s a tremendous opportunity to reduce technology acquisition and support costs by establishing a small set of standard devices in key categories – like computers, printers, copiers – and directing procurement through the Office of Acquisitions Management,” Ptasienski said. “Negotiating larger purchases with a smaller number of vendors will allow the House to leverage its buying power and reduce costs,” he said.
Ptasienski added that in a decentralized system, House members are often requesting overlapping support that runs up the overall cost of IT efforts. Centralization and standardization of procurement and tech support would help eliminate the overlaps.
“Strengthening the support provided by the [Chief Administration Officer] and ensuring that it meets the needs of members would significantly reduce or eliminate having member offices paying adjunct support,” Ptasienski said.
Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., blamed the lack of IT modernization on the House procurement process.
“As somebody who’s worked will all of those systems, they haven’t been updated with new technology and I think that has a lot to do with the procurement process in the House,” the congressman said.
Former Senate Sergeant at Arms Drew Willison, another witness at the hearing, provided examples of IT centralization successes from his time with the Senate.
“The centralization of this system saves the Senate and its members a lot of money,” Willison said. “It also helps the Sergeant at Arms to ensure that all technology being deployed is up to current security standards, which decreases vulnerabilities,” he explained.
During Willison’s tenure at the Senate, he worked to modernize the aging, “terrible” phone system. While implementing a brand-new phone system was over budget and went over the original time frame, the new system is a welcomed improvement. Centralization and IT modernization comes with great risks, Willison said, but it is often worth it.