DOD vs. GSA: The two faces of EC emerge

The Defense Department this month plans to test a World Wide Web-based search engine that will provide a single point of entry for vendors searching for business opportunities across the entire department, even though a group of civilian and military agencies also is working to take a similar system governmentwide.

DOD Business Opportunities is designed to give users a single interface to a multitude of DOD Web sites on which Defense or-ganizations post solicitations. Users will be able to enter information such as product codes or solicitation release dates and search through every relevant DOD online solicitation or synopsis through a single interface.

"There is no single place to go to find all DOD opportunities," said Scottie Knott, director of DOD's Joint Electronic Commerce Program Office (JECPO). "The No. 1 thing I hear about from [vendors] is the need for this capability."

The system will tie together systems such as the Defense Logistics Agency's Procurement Gateway, the Navy Electronic Commerce Online (NECO) system and the Army Single Face to Industry site, Knott said.

The announcement came as a surprise to civilian agency officials who have been working on the Electronic Posting System (EPS), which they said is being tested as a vehicle for access to solicitations and synopses from agencies governmentwide— including those within DOD.

These officials expressed confusion over DOD's plans and said they were not aware of JECPO's plan to build the new system until last week.

"I really am surprised that DOD is doing something different," said Bob Welch, senior procurement executive at the Commerce Department. "I really thought they were lined up behind EPS."

Paul Fontaine, GSA's program manager for the Acquisition Reform Network, said he and other officials working on EPS did not know about the DOD Business Opportunities project until last week. He acknowledged that the DOD project "is essentially the same thing we are doing" with EPS, and he said he is setting up a meeting with Knott to discuss how they can cooperate.

Fontaine said EPS, which is still undergoing pilot testing, will serve as a system for posting solicitations and as a centralized search engine connecting to systems at agencies such as NASA, the Transportation Department and the Air Force. He said pilots will run until the end of the year, and he expects the Office of Management and Budget to designate EPS as the government's touted "single face to industry."

Deidre Lee, director of OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said she is awaiting the results of the EPS pilot tests before determining whether the system should serve as the single face to industry. "I'm willing to look at anything out there."

Lee added that she plans to meet with Knott to discuss DOD Business Opportunities. "The only worry on my part is that governmentwide resources are tight," she said. "I don't want to solve the same issue twice. But right now, I'm not familiar enough with [the DOD project] to say whether it is or is not the same approach as EPS."

An Air Force official who requested anonymity said her organization has been working with GSA on the pilot for EPS, which eventually will host all of the service's solicitation posting systems. She said users of DOD Business Opportunities still will be able to transparently access Air Force solicitations through that Web site. She refused to comment on whether she believed DOD's work on the new Web site duplicated GSA's.

Knott said DOD Business Opportunities would provide an interface to EPS or any other system fielded by civilian agencies. "I believe what DOD is doing is complementary to what the feds are doing because we are both using a distributed approach," she said. "The beauty of information technology is that you don't have to settle on a single system. You can have a distributed approach and still present a single face to the user. So not everybody has to choose EPS."

Privately, EPS proponents said it would require less effort to simply allow EPS to connect directly into sites such as NECO and the Army Single Face to Industry rather than connecting through DOD Business Opportunities. One official said EPS was designed to discourage efforts such as DOD's; such efforts have resulted in more than 400 acquisition Web sites across government.

But one DOD official said it is unclear how much progress GSA has made on EPS or whether it ultimately will be designated as the government's single face to industry. In the meantime, DOD Business Opportunities will respond to vendors' requests for a single avenue into DOD's acquisition sites, the official said.

Beta testing for DOD Business Opportunities is scheduled to start this month, with initial operational capability at the end of November.

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