Required FACNET use lifted

The Senate Armed Services Committee last week approved an amendment to the Defense authorization bill that would repeal language mandating the use of the Federal Acquisition Computer Network (FACNET) for electronic commerce.

Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee introduced the amendment last week. Mandated by the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act Thompson said Congress intended FACNET to serve as a common architecture for agencies' EC operations. But he said the General Accounting Office earlier this year reported that agencies were having trouble with FACNET and alternatives to the system have become more prevalent since FASA passed in 1994.

"GAO recommended that if FACNET were an impediment to the implementation of a governmentwide electronic commerce strategy then legislative changes should be enacted " Thompson said. "This amendment would provide those changes to give flexibility to implement electronic commerce at [the Defense Department] and other federal agencies in an efficient and cost-effective manner consistent with commercial practices."

Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) minority leader of the Governmental Affairs Committee co-sponsored the amendment.

A source on Thompson's staff said the amendment was submitted in response to a request from Clinton administration officials who said the FACNET requirement was slowing agencies' adoption of EC. Agencies have complained that the FASA language "was too restrictive and they made a very good case " she said. "It was probably written in 1992. When you think about how far we've come in five years you can see it really was out of date."

The staff source noted that the amendment still requires "a single point of entry" for vendors who want an entry to the governmentwide EC infrastructure a requirement that she said was particularly a concern for small businesses. It also calls for agencies to use uniform procedures and commercially accepted standards for electronic data interchange.

Steven Kelman administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy applauded the committee's action. "We're pleased to see the Senate acting to establish a more sensible and commercially oriented approach to electronic commerce " he said. "FACNET seemed to all of us like a good idea at the time but it has proven to be an inappropriate way to bid out small purchases.

"The language adopted by the Senate reflects a view more consistent with commercial practices that electronic commerce is most appropriately used for orders and payments under contracts that have been negotiated by other means " Kelman added.

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