GATEC system orphaned again

With only six months left to comply with the president's electronic commerce mandate, the Energy Department is banking on an EC solution developed - and now abandoned - by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

As its agencywide solution for EC, DOE has chosen the Government Acquisition Through Electronic Commerce (GATEC) system, originally created by the advanced information technology organization at the Livermore, Calif., facility. To adapt GATEC for DOE-wide use, the agency hired the lab to guide the system through the pilot phase. It was scheduled to be rolled out throughout the agency by the end of the year.

Late last year, DOE announced it would use the GATEC system instead of the Federal Acquisition Computer Network (FACNET), a key part of the governmentwide EC initiative. The choice was reportedly prompted by problems with two Defense Department network entry points used by FACNET.

DOE's endorsement of GATEC - a system criticized by some for its proprietary nature - occurred after the Air Force opted not to proceed with an earlier plan to deploy the system at a number of bases in 1994. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, began using GATEC in 1992.

Now Livermore's new associate director for the computation directorate, David Cooper, has decided to disband the advanced information technology organization, a move that sources say would undercut GATEC support.

Cooper said the organization would meet its commitments to DOE before its cancellation. "I'm in the process of doing some planning and identifying core competencies for the computation directorate at LLNL," Cooper said. "I've decided that electronic commerce is not one of those core competencies at this time.

"However, I have said we would fulfill all of our commitments and meet all of our milestones in the future," he added.

DOE chief information officer S.W. Hall said the organization's commitments to DOE's GATEC implementation were reaching their conclusion, so the cancellation will not disrupt DOE plans.

"We were reaching the point of looking at who would do the long-term management anyway," Hall said. "We still need to decide where we need to do the future support. But it doesn't really leave us in the lurch since we're at the end of a phase anyway."

But disbanding the office that developed GATEC almost sure-ly means that further enhancements will not materialize. Some sources said that with-out enhancement, GATEC is headed for obsolescence.

"If GATEC goes away, you can look at it positively or negatively," said Howard Stern, director of government markets for Sterling Commerce Inc. "It may eliminate alternatives to FACNET, and government agencies that have been looking at alternatives might go to FACNET.

"On the other hand," Stern said, "agencies that have been looking at GATEC as an alternative may just continue to look for alternatives. There have been operational problems, performance problems with FACNET."

"There were some very creative ideas for putting GATEC on the Internet," said Peg Arnold, former GATEC program manager at Wright-Patterson. "It wouldn't have taken a whole lot of time or money. GATEC is the only system out there now that does everything that people are paying money to get to."

But those ideas would not materialize without development support for GATEC, Arnold said. "I don't know what's going to happen," she said. "If you don't keep moving with enhancements to the technology, you might as well shut things down."

A few Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers in California also use GATEC as their EC solution. Richard Trevino, chief of acquisition and materiel management at the Long Beach VA Medical Center, said he had not been informed that Livermore had decided to discontinue the organization that developed GATEC. "It's too bad because [GATEC] is an excellent system," he said. The change "is going to pose a problem. If they continue letting us do what we do, that's fine for a while. But new technology needs to be updated. It's like having last year's model."

Whether the team that developed GATEC will be reincarnated somewhere in DOE or another agency is up for speculation. Sources told Federal Computer Week that GATEC developer John Rhodes is seeking new employment at Livermore. Rhodes was not available for comment.

In addition, the question of who will maintain the GATEC hub - necessary for DOE to continue using GATEC - remains unanswered. "It's likely it will be supported at Lawrence Livermore or outsourced," said Cooper.


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