Acquisition center mulls e-mail rule

The Army's Communications-Electronics Command (Cecom) Acquisition Center may soon require vendors to submit all procurement communication electronically for future solicitations and contracts.

The draft policy which would not take effect until late this summer represents one of the few times a federal agency has considered requiring vendors to communicate via e-mail rather than simply extending that as an option.

"In the Acquisition Support and Compliance Branch we are trying to re-engineer ourselves and since this is the Communications-Electronics Command we thought we should start trying to communicate electronically " said Dennis Bradley a procurement analyst for Cecom which researches develops and acquires warfighting systems.

A process action team wrote the draft policy which would require vendors to receive electronically Cecom's request for proposals and electronically submit bids price lists technical evaluations termination letters and other documents. Cecom has offered the draft to industry for comment Bradley added.

The notion of making e-mail capability a prerequisite to participation in a procurement makes Cecom "one of the pioneers in this area " said Marion A. Royal a telecommunications specialist within the General Services Administration's Center for E-mail Technology. "What is lacking here quite honestly is a government infrastructure for [security encryption]. Until we get such an infrastructure in place there are going to be pockets of electronic commerce like this in the government " he said.

Neil Stillman deputy assistant secretary for information resources management at the Department of Health and Human Services said the provision is the first he has seen of a mandatory e-mail clause. He characterized the proposed policy as a step in the right direction for the entire government.

Industry reception to the mandatory

e-mail clause thus far has been positive Bradley said. Small businesses however are concerned the new policy may keep smaller companies from participating in Cecom procurements Bradley added.

Also some vendors are worried about security and others are concerned that large files such as technical manuals cannot be transmitted easily.Cecom currently uses a Minotaur II encryption product. No classified data however will be sent via e-mail Bradley said.

Cecom officials said they have given contracting officers the power to exempt certain documents and communications from the mandatory e-mail policy. "That's why we included the phrase `unless exempted by the contracting officer in writing ' " Bradley said. "There will be instances here where vendors will have to send books and the like by [Federal Express]. We are definitely looking into exempting that."

Cecom also may give exemptions to companies that claim they cannot afford the infrastructure to e-mail documents he said.

Electronic communication however as tied to the federal procurement process costs more in terms of strategic planning than it does in equipment said Ed Hogan vice president of marketing for Unisys Corp.'s Federal Systems Division which bids on a lot of Cecom work. "To me getting stuff like [Corel Corp.'s] WordPerfect and Power- Point and connections to the Internet are not major investments. It is more a matter of adapting to a new way of doing business."

The mandatory clause will mean shorter lead times in each stage of an acquisition he added.

GSA's Royal predicted that any backlash to the proposal likely would occur over the issue of security. "A company is really going to have to trust the e-mail before using it to send proprietary information on a proposal " he said.However without a federal electronic security structure in place there will have to be some organizations such as Cecom willing to push forward on their own. "I'm encouraged by this " Royal said of the Cecom effort. "But once a federal infrastructure is in place we will have to go back and redress these first few pockets."

Bradley said Cecom is aiming to issue a final clause by Sept. 1. Cecom will receive comment on the clause until July 15. The proposed format must be compatible with Microsoft Corp.'s Word 6.0 PowerPoint 4.0 for slides Excel 5.0 spreadsheets and Microsoft Access 2.0 according to a recent Commerce Business Daily notice.

-- Jones is a contributing writer based in Falls Church Va.


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