Taking reform efforts to school

The Central Contractor Registration database, the cornerstone of the Defense Department's plan to move to a paperless contracting process by 2000, has hit a snag. DOD contractors, presumably among the primary beneficiaries of an electronic contracting environment, are reluctant to sign up.

Slow and frustrating processes combined with confusion and a lack of visibility in the market, are said to be behind the low registration numbers. When DOD officials agreed to push back the deadline to June 1 for companies to register with the CCR, they cited the need to give procurement shops, particularly those in far-flung areas, more time to understand how the changes would affect their day-to-day business.

DOD's experience with the CCR underscores the crucial role of education in implementing successful reform. Vendors, both large and small, as well as DOD procurement personnel need to be schooled on the benefits of the CCR specifically and electronic commerce (EC) in general.

This lesson is applicable to most every reform effort, and it is one that all of government needs to heed. Communicating with and educating vendors, agencies or anyone affected by systemic changes are vital elements to carrying out reforms, but they are areas that frequently are given little thought and energy. The result is often a reform that misses deadlines— or worse, creates a way of doing business that does not meet its potential or fails altogether.

Maybe DOD's second effort at convincing vendors to help the agency go paperless can be realized with a stronger focus on educating the vendor community about the importance of EC in re-engineering the DOD procurement process.

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