Agencies team to beef up online CBD

Trying to succeed where others have failed, the Commerce Department, NASA and the General Services Administration have joined forces to create a single online entry point for industry to access governmentwide procurement opportunities.

The initiative builds on the existing Commerce Business Daily Network (CBDNet), a free online listing of government contracting and procurement opportunities. Agencies are required to post in the CBD proposed procurement actions or contract awards in excess of $25,000.

The three agencies are working together to improve both the front-end and the back-end of the system so that searching for and posting solicitations on-line is made much easier. The new system, called Enhanced CBDNet, will send e-mail notifications on upcoming procurement opportunities, allow more detailed and specific searches so vendors need to look at less information to find what they want, and will provide searches across different agency World Wide Web sites.

Meanwhile, GSA took electronic posting software developed by NASA and rewrote it to support governmentwide use. It will allow agencies to post and download solicitations, send e-mail notifications, accept vendor bids and proposals through digitally signed transactions and will interface with other systems such as financial systems. Five agencies— GSA, the Transportation Department, NASA, the Interior Department and the Air Force— will test the software during a pilot phase starting soon.

The goal is to present a "single face" to industry for electronic commerce, something that the Federal Acquisition Computer Network (FACNET) never accomplished, primarily because the architecture was too restrictive, observers said.

"This is a Web-based single-face-to-industry approach that will accomplish what FACNET intended and more," said Tony Trenkle, co-chairman of GSA's Electronic Commerce Program Management Office, which put funding toward the effort. "It promotes interoperability, [offers] a single face, utilizes best practices and accomplishes three of the goals we're pushing for."

This year's Defense authorization bill eliminated mandatory use of FACNET and required the Office of Federal Procurement Policy to develop a new governmentwide strategic plan for EC and to define what a single face to industry would look like.

"That's our real goal here," said Ken Stepka, a procurement analyst at NASA who is involved with the project. "How can government present a single face to industry? I think this is a good example of finally being able to pull it off."

"We're taking a single point of entry and making that point of entry a rich source of opportunity by using technology to give them access to information they want more easily," said Tish Tucker, acting lead of the Acquisition Systems Division at the Commerce Department. "One of the goals is to make electronic posting technology more accessible to any government agency. We will make sure the electronic posting system integrates with CBDNet."

"Everything that has to be posted in CBD will be posted in this system," said Paul Fontaine, GSA's program manager of ARNET, a Web clearinghouse for information on federal purchasing reform. "When OFPP first sat down to write the new electronic commerce strategy, it asked agencies what [the strategy] should look like. We agreed that by definition that Enhanced CBDNet would be that single face."

Not all agencies will have to install the GSA/NASA electronic posting software to use and access Enhanced CBDNet. "We're not saying every agency has to use or install the application," Fontaine said. "If you already have something that works, you can interface with our system."

However, it may take a change in business processes or new legislation to make CBDNet the single point to industry for all government procurement opportunities, Tucker said, because some opportunities are not listed in CBD.

"The overall concept is wonderful," said Delores "Dee" Smith, an EC consultant and former director of EC at DOD. "It's a great step toward helping small- to medium-size businesses to use the Internet for procurement. I hope the next step is [electronic data interchange]."

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