Acquisition reform focuses on Net

In one of the first examples of what is expected to be a growing trend among government agencies, the Federal Aviation Administration is making the Internet a cornerstone of its acquisition reform initiative.

While using the World Wide Web to educate the general public and its own employees about the reform, the FAA is working toward an April 1 deadline for ironing out details of an agencywide acquisition system.

The FAA was recently freed from most federal acquisition regulations by the Transportation appropriations bill and is setting up its own procurement system.

The FAA is one of several agencies experimenting with the Internet as a way to interact with industry, said Steven Kelman, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. More commonly, agencies will post requests for information and proposals on the Web.

"It gives industry a better idea, and a heads-up, about what government is thinking," Kelman said.

By the same token, it is possible the Internet could be used in other areas of federal regulation, he said. "It provides a method to democratize the rule-making process."

"We feel the [use of] the Internet was very innovative and something we would encourage all the other agencies to use," said Olga Grkavac, vice president of the Information Technology Association of America.

Not everyone is sold on the current infatuation with the Internet. Agencies cannot rely exclusively on its use, warned Bert Concklin, executive director of the Professional Services Council.

"In some instances you have to be careful you are not putting things out of reach for smaller companies and organizations," Concklin said.

The FAA took its acquisition effort to the Internet two weeks ago when it posted a draft proposal of its plan on the Web for industry review. The Internet has proven an effective way to get the word out quickly to a large number of people, said George Donohue, the FAA's associate administrator for acquisitions and research.

"Within the time frame we are working, most people would never get word [otherwise]" about details of the plan, he said.

In hard copy, the draft document runs about 150 pages, which is prohibitively large to mail to large numbers of people, the FAA said.

"We want to get as widespread distribution of the document as possible to solicit input...[from anybody] who has an interest in how the FAA is going to go about procuring things," said Dennis DeGaetano, the FAA's director of acquisitions.

According to the FAA, the document generated about 175 hits the first evening it was on the Web, before it was even publicized. After one week, more than 1,100 people had accessed the document.

In addition to publishing the plan on the Internet, the agency hopes to foster debate further by posting the comments it receives on the Web page.

Once complete, the agency plans to create an Internet-based "intelligent" acquisition tool for use by its acquisition personnel. After getting basic information about a given procurement activity, the system will generate a procurement portfolio tailored to the user's needs. This might include a file of relevant best practices, checklists to follow and instructions on documentation.

"It is giving the contracting officers all the information they need to go ahead and actually do a procurement," an FAA spokesman said.

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