Marines turn to portal to spur competition

The Marine Corps has launched a Web portal designed to streamline its procurement process and spur competition

As the military services continue to experience pressure to increase competition for information technology services, the Marine Corps last week launched a Web portal designed to streamline its procurement process and spur competition among vendors.

The Marine Corps Systems Command's Acquisition Center for Support Services (ACSS) Enterprise Procurement Portal enables users to complete the entire procurement process online.

With the procurement portal, the service can avoid using an e-mail bidding process, which many say effectively limits competition for contracts, said Charles Tsui, a project manager for the portal at contractor Appian Corp.

"Instead of sending out e-mail, you have a centralized Web portal where all vendors can see new opportunities," Tsui said. Vendors can also describe the kind of work that they do and be notified of certain opportunities, he said.

"We wanted to move to an e-commerce environment and we wanted to be able to maintain competition among a viable vendor base," said Mark Hoyland, ACSS director.

The competition issue has become increasingly paramount in light of Section 803 of the fiscal 2001 Defense authorization bill, which requires the military services to compete multiple-award contracts.

"We changed the way we were doing the contracts," Hoyland said.

Earlier this year, the Marine Corps Systems Command awarded the Commercial Enterprise Omnibus Support Services contract, a $3 billion indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract with 22 vendor teams from 111 companies, replacing a single large contract held by Northrop Grumman Corp.

Along with the new contract, the command wanted a new way to streamline the procurement process while still ensuring competition and best value, Hoyland said. After looking at other working examples of procurement portals, including the Naval Sea Systems Command's Seaport Acquisition Portal, the command decided the portal method was an effective way to do so.

The Marine Corps Systems Command eventually decided to use Appian, which created the successful Army Knowledge Online (AKO) portal, to provide the software that will serve as the backbone for its ACSS Enterprise Procurement Portal.

Matt Calkins, president and chief executive officer of Appian, said that the portal allows users to customize the distribution of applications and can ensure that users have access to the applications that they need.

Col. Robert Coxe, the Army's recently retired chief technology officer and the driving force behind the AKO portal, said that the Marine Corps should not try to predict how the portal will evolve.

"They have no real understanding of what the end state will really look like," and everything that will be added to the portal, such as a document repository and licensing agreements, will take time, he said. "The worst thing is if everybody buys into it and you can't deliver."

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