New tool seeks to streamline purchase process

Created under a partnership between 18F and the Public Buildings Service, Communicart aims to make purchasing small items more efficient for feds.

The 18F digital services team last week showcased a new tool to automate and manage the process for purchasing small items, like office chairs.

Through the current system, employees can use a credit card called a “purchase card” to acquire small goods, but they must justify the expense to an approving official and a budget analyst before buying. 18F developer Greg Boone wrote on the team’s blog that the approval process is laborious, mired by bureaucratic inconsistencies and paperwork. It’s also conducted via email, placing the burden on the requestor to track a request’s progress

The new tool, called Communicart, or C2, will help workers better track that approval process. The blog post is short on details, but according to a slideshow presentation during the team’s first demo day last year, the tool features an an easy-to-use interface that allows a user to search for requests, approvals and other data, and share information.The tool also has an automated emailing system that allows staffers to track the status of a request.

“Our hope is that as this tool streamlines the purchase card approval process, government employees can spend more time performing their essential work and less time on the paperwork required to buy that new chair,” Boone wrote in his blog post.


So far, the feedback has been positive.

“We’ve heard people say things like ‘this system is awesome,’ and even got asked ‘when do the angels sing?’ We’re excited to see how this product grows,” he wrote.

The tool’s early prototype was built under a collaboration between 18F and General Services Administration’s Public Buildings Service in two months using short agile sprints, according to the demo day presentation. Boon said the team received early feedback that helped drive further development. The team has also posted the code on GitHub.

According to Boone’s post, 265,000 federal workers have purchase cards. Last year, they made $17 billion worth of purchases on items that each cost less than $3,000.

The team has already deployed the tool for staff in GSA’s national capital region, and it will likely pilot in Great Lakes region next.

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