GAO recommends EC integration

A General Accounting Office report released earlier this month concluded that the mandated Federal Acquisition Computer Network (FACNET) is used infrequently for procurements and recommends that an integrated strategy be developed for using other electronic commerce technologies in addition to FACNET.

The FACNET architecture was established to give agencies a standard method to electronically buy goods and services from vendors using electronic data interchange (EDI).

It is intended primarily for purchases of $2 500 to $100 000. President Clinton mandated that agencies use EC for many of their procurements by Jan. 1.

But in 1995 agencies used FACNET in less than 2 percent of about 2 million federal procurement actions such as purchase orders and new contract awards valued at $2 501 to $100 000. The Defense Department executed the majority of FACNET procurements GAO reported.

Agencies have not used FACNET because it is difficult according to the report. Lost late and duplicative transactions and network interruptions have "frustrated" users and delayed procurements. Also agencies have to spend more time and resources using FACNET for purchases of $25 000 or less than they would using traditional simplified purchasing methods.

In addition the system's fundamental problem is that it is designed primarily for competitive contract awards. But organ-izations that have the most success using EDI technology use FACNET for high-volume routine and repetitive transactions such as delivery orders under existing contracts GAO reported.

GAO recommended that the government develop a "coherent and integrated federal strategy and implementation approach for using various EC technologies and purchasing methods including FACNET."Tony Trenkle co-chairman of the General Services Administration's Electronic Commerce Acquisition Program Management Office (PMO) said steps have already been taken "to broaden the scope and provide more cross-functional support for EC so we don't have stovepiped initiatives."

EC is broader than FACNET Trenkle said. "We will take a closer look at FACNET and where it is most appropriately used. We [want] to tie it into the bigger picture rather than force everyone to use an infrastructure."

Two recently formed groups will study where FACNET is most appropriate and where other technologies such as purchase cards would be a better solution Trenkle said. "We recognize that FACNET is not practical to use everywhere."

A new high-level management team called the Electronic Processes Initiatives Committee (EPIC) was formed by the President's Management Council. The group will meet for the first time on Jan. 30. It will set overall policy and direction for EC in the government.

Under EPIC is the EC Executive Committee which includes members from the Federal Procurement Chief Financial Officer and Chief Information Officer councils as well as representatives from the Office of Management and Budget GSA and the Treasury Department. The chairman is Marty Wagner associate administrator of GSA and the first meeting will be in February. It will focus on strategic direction and other issues relating to government-wide EC use.

GSA's EC PMO with co-chairmen Trenkle and Paul Grant a special assistant for EC with the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for command control communications and intelligence will support EPIC and the Executive Committee.

Jim Bradford project leader for the NASA Acquisition Internet Service said the agency agrees that there is no single EC solution that fits the government's procurement needs.

In fact NASA has successfully used the Internet and Internet tools to post synopses and solicitations for several years. It plans in the future to get responses from vendors via the Internet once security issues have been resolved.

"Other civilian and Defense agencies say it is easier to do this [over the Internet] than over FACNET. The Internet is extremely cheap and easy to set up " Bradford said. "Also the majority of vendors aren't at the level of FACNET yet.

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