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Region 2 doing its part for Robotic Process Automation
August 12, 2021
By Ben Zabava
Timely audit resolution is one of the most important tools GSA uses to ensure its federal contracts have and will continue to provide best value for taxpayers. While it is possible for various issues to delay a given number of the agency’s contract audits, soon one of the most common of those issues will be forever off the table thanks to the latest leveraging of the Northeast and Caribbean Region’s expertise with Robotic Process Automation technology.
Throughout the year, the Office of Inspector General schedules audits of GSA's Multiple Award Schedule supply and service contracts that are approaching their next option periods, to help determine if these contracts are still providing best value to the federal government. The OIG then shares these audit schedules with the Federal Acquisition Service. From there, the FAS contracting officers managing the contracts must notify vendors in writing no less than 365 days in advance of the impending audit. However, as a manual process subject to human error, these notifications are not always compliant with the 365-day requirement. Over the past three fiscal years, about 14% of audit notifications from contracting officers to vendors were untimely, which leads to delays in the vendors providing the data necessary for the OIG to conduct the audit. The ongoing situation seemed a natural opportunity for process improvement through use of an RPA “bot”.
A bot is a software program designed to automate tasks. Typically, the tasks are simple, repetitive, routine, and performed much more quickly, efficiently, and accurately by a bot than by humans. The 365-Day Letter Bot is the most recent addition to the group of GSA’s bots established through the Northeast and Caribbean Region’s RPA Development Team. Working with the FAS Office of Policy and Compliance, the RPA Development Team captured the specifications and program requirements necessary to be able to contract for the development of a bot that, going forward, will guarantee 100% compliance with the 365-day notice to the vendor of their upcoming contract audit.
Through its calendar function, the 365-Day Letter Bot will always populate and send a timely notification via email directly to the vendor’s authorized negotiators. The bot also sends courtesy copies of the generated notification to the GSA contracting officer managing the contract, the OIG, and the FAS Office of Policy and Compliance. The bot also sends a copy to the Office of Audit Management and Accountability within GSA’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer, which is responsible for filing this letter as part of the audit resolution process. The bot will be available to all of FAS beginning next month, in time for fiscal year 2022 audits.
“As the first step in the process, timely notification to the vendor starts all stakeholders off on the right foot toward a fully successful audit,” said FAS Office of Policy and Compliance Assistant Commissioner Mark Lee. “It really is a great help for procurement integrity that GSA has access to this sort of customized technology solution and the experience to make it so readily available.”
The Northeast and Caribbean Region’s experience with RPA began in 2018, with the development and piloting of GSA’s first enterprise-wide bot, “Truman.” Since its rollout to the rest of the agency in fiscal year 2020, Truman has already saved several thousand hours in the administration and review of new offers, pre-negotiation and price negotiation memoranda, and other routine contracting letters and forms, so that contracting officers and specialists can redirect more time toward higher value analytical work, skills training, and increased engagement with stakeholders.
Besides the 365-Day Letter Bot coming in September, the Northeast and Caribbean Region’s RPA Development Team is also looking forward to the rollout this fall of both the Industrial Operations Bot 2.0 and the Catalog Management Bot. The IOA Bot 2.0 will be able to retrieve and organize information from additional data systems required by industrial operations analysts to perform their assessments, as well as feature a wider variety of sales reports. The CM Bot will make it faster and easier to review and approve catalog and price modification requests from suppliers and is ultimately expected to save 30,000 work hours per year.
“GSA is one of the lead agencies for the federal government’s increasing use of RPA, and our region is very proud of the role we have been able to play in making it happen,” said FAS Northeast and Caribbean Regional Commissioner Jeff Lau. “It is genuinely exciting to realize we are still only at the beginning of all the saved time, saved money, and process improvements RPA will mean for our customers and the American public.”
For more information about RPA, please visit: digital.gov/communities/rpa