NIH pacts offer goods via DLA Internet mall

The National Institutes of Health next month will let agencies order products and services over the Internet from its three governmentwide contracts. The Defense Logistics Agency will be the first venue as the agency has agreed to give NIH a "wing" in its forthcoming "DLA electronic mall " according to Manny De Vera the program manager for NIH's Electronic Computer Store ImageWorld and Chief Information Officer Solutions and Partners (CIO-SP) contracts.

NIH is pursuing similar arrangements with the Air Force the Navy and the Acquisition Reform Network (ARNet).

At first only the catalog for the Electronic Computer Store program which offers commercial office automation equipment and software from 17 vendors will be on-line De Vera said. Customers would be able to place orders by going through NIH but will not be able to conduct transactions directly with vendors until later.

Buying services from ImageWorld and CIO-SP will come later he said and will require a different type of transaction set. Gale Greenwald an NIH contracting officer who is involved with all three contracts said the project is designed to make purchasing from these vehicles "even more streamlined" and will also allow NIH customers to place orders against contracts in other agencies.

NIH which currently uses electronic mail to process orders off those contracts has let a contract of about $30 000 to X-Change Software Inc. Oakton Va. to write the software for its system. Susan Hurst director of business development for the firm said its application is a modified version of electronic data interchange software it has produced for the General Services Administration's Advantage program.

"We're trying to help vendors with a single interface to government " Hurst said. The company had sought to market its software to other agencies because "we already had many of the vendors with GSA."

Vendors who want to participate in the on-line system would have to pay X-Change a subscription fee to use the software. Because agencies would be using the Internet the service would cost them nothing.

Philip Church senior account executive in the DLA business practice re-engineering office said his agency plans to post electronic catalogs for many commodities not just information technology on its mall Web site including the GSA Advantage on-line schedule program.

"If we put all these stores into a mall [they] will benefit everybody by simplifying where they go to buy a variety of products " he said. In a later phase DLA plans to include a search engine at the site.

Electronic purchasing in the government has generally been limited to buying commodities such as hardware or commercial software packages. But agencies are starting to use technologies such as e-mail to speed the award of task orders for services.

Bob Dornan senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc. said that if NIH wants to make it easier for customers to complete task orders with vendors using electronic commerce technology the agency needs to be careful that procurement officials remain "in that loop" to oversee the transactions.

"Anything you can do to exchange communication electronically will expedite the process but you don't want to make it so automatic that you expose yourself to some abuse of activity " he continued. Federal Sources holds a subcontract with Science Applications International Corp. in the CIO-SP program.

At a Federal Sources breakfast last week De Vera said the electronic catalog system would be "better than GSA Advantage." Later he replied that he had "said that jokingly" but thought the NIH system would be "more up-to-date" and "more user-friendly.

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