Expanded CBDNet falls apart

A multiple-agency effort to enhance the Commerce Business Daily online listing of government contracting opportunities has unraveled over the past two months, underscoring once again how difficult a task it is for agencies to agree on how to create a single face to industry for electronic commerce.

Earlier this year, the General Services Administration, the Commerce Department, NASA and the Government Printing Office planned to upgrade the existing CBDNet with a new version called Enhanced CBDNet. This new service would create a single online entry point for industry to access governmentwide procurement information. CBDNet is a free, online listing of government contracting and procurement opportunities operated by GPO through a contract from Commerce. Agencies are required to post in the CBD proposed procurement actions or contract awards in excess of $25,000.

The agencies planned to improve CBDNet so that posting and searching for solicitations would be easier, a goal the Federal Acquisition Computer Network aimed for but never quite accomplished. FACNET was a required service for agencies doing business electronically, but agencies resisted using it, claiming the architecture was too restrictive. Congress removed the requirement to use it in the 1998 Defense authorization bill.

However, uncertainty over how much the project would cost and technology issues related to how Enhanced CBDNet would be developed caused GSA and NASA to reconsider how to achieve the outcome they wanted without using CBDNet, and Commerce refocused its attention on regulation changes, such as shortening the time that agencies must wait between posting a synopsis and issuing a solicitation. GSA is drafting a new plan.

According to sources, GPO never bought into GSA's and NASA's plans to develop CBDNet, and GPO was not ready to give up its current and proven system without knowing what the financial impact would be on agencies that submit synopses to CBDNet.

Commerce and GPO may choose to join GSA and NASA later to develop the system. "We know GSA and NASA are looking at the best way to take their idea governmentwide, and we will support them the best way we can," said Tish Tucker, acting director of Commerce's Office of Acquisition Systems Division.

Although GPO and Commerce "have decided to step aside," said NASA procurement analyst Ken Stepka, GSA and NASA plan to move ahead with a pilot to test electronic posting software.

The software was developed by NASA and redesigned by GSA for governmentwide use. It was originally designed to be fully integrated with CBDNet to create one system. Five agencies— GSA, NASA, the Transportation Department, the Interior Department and the Air Force— will pilot test the posting software. "We hope that everyone will eventually be there," Stepka said.

GSA is drafting a plan describing the pilot and is expected to hand over leadership of the proj-ect to Dee Lee, the recently confirmed administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy— a move aimed at giving the plan more clout. OFPP this year was required to develop a governmentwide strategic plan for EC and to define what a single face to industry would look like.

Meanwhile, Commerce plans to beef up CBDNet, Tucker said. "We are doing things to line the regulations up with what we believe is the intent of acquisition streamlining," she said, including changes to regulations making the electronic version of the CBD the official version.

Regardless of the issues among the agencies, the goals for EC remain the same. "We still feel it's important to present a single face to our commercial partners," said Tony Trenkle, co-chairman of GSA's EC Program Management Office.

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