Set-Asides

GAO denies EIA protest

The General Accounting Office has denied a protest against the Energy Information Administration by McNeil Technologies Inc. The company had charged that it should have been awarded a contract as part of the $75 million EIA Omnibus Procurement, which is a package of contracts designed to support the agency's work collecting, analyzing and distributing information about world energy resources to Congress, agencies, academic researchers, industry and the general public.

GAO said that although EIA said in an informational document that it "contemplated'' awarding a contract to a small, disadvantaged business in each of three contract lots, the agency had not made this promise in its formal solicitation. McNeil was evaluated third behind two firms that received contracts in one of the procurement categories, according to the April 2 decision. In all, 15 vendors received contracts.

Free-flight tools expected

The RTCA Free Flight Steering Committee plans to submit to the Federal Aviation Administration a set of recommendations that would roll out some new automation tools to air traffic controllers sooner. The tools are an important step toward developing so-called free flight, an air traffic management concept that will reduce airspace congestion by giving pilots, with input from controllers, more freedom to choose their own routes.

The tools, which will be installed at airports throughout the country, include a traffic management adviser, which helps manage planes in the en route space; passive final approach, which is a spacing tool that will help sequence planes for landing; and a collaborative decision-making tool that allows airlines to exchange flight plans with the FAA in real time.

Digital check pilot to begin

In the next few months, the Financial Management Service (FMS) will pay about 50 small- to medium-size Defense Department vendors with digital checks. The electronic check pilot program also involves the U.S. Postal Service, Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and a group of banks. The pilot involves using smart cards as "virtual checkbooks" that would keep track of all transactions and would allow users to sign and endorse payments using digital signatures.

John Hawke, undersecretary for domestic finance at the Treasury Department, said at a recent Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association conference that the digital check pilot is different from computer banking. "This is peer-to-peer communication, and [payments are] transmitted over the Internet, not telephone lines," he said. If the pilot is successful, it could eliminate millions of paper checks that FMS writes to its suppliers every year.

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