Feds move closer to a 'single face'

Though the Clinton administration has yet to mandate a single system where agencies can post contract opportunities and other business opportunities for vendors, one posting system has captured the support of many agencies.

The Electronic Posting System (EPS) is an Internet-based application that enables agencies to electronically post synopses and solicitations, provides vendors with online access to business opportunities throughout government and sends companies e-mail notifications related to a specific area of business interest. It quickly is becoming the de facto single point of entry to governmentwide business opportunities.

The General Services Administration, NASA and the departments of Defense, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs are using EPS or have committed to posting all their business opportunities on EPS.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are evaluating EPS, which has registered about 25,000 vendors.

"EPS may or may not be the single point of entry, but I think it's got a pretty good chance," said Paul Fontaine, ARNet program manager at GSA. "EPS works; it's been piloted. It could be online for the federal government in a year from now."

It took only six months for the Air Force to have all its buying offices worldwide using EPS, Fontaine added.

One of the advantages of EPS is that agencies can keep any internal posting system they may be using and simply link it to the central EPS index, Fontaine said. For example, the Federal Acquisition Computer Network (FACNET), which was established to give agencies a standard method to electronically buy goods and services from vendors using electronic data interchange (EDI), would link to EPS.

FACNet, Fontaine said, would be another gateway to EPS. Last year's Defense authorization bill eliminated mandatory use of FACNET, but many agencies, especially DOD, still use the system.

EPS was developed by NASA and redesigned by GSA for governmentwide use. Last year, GSA, NASA, the Commerce Department and the Government Printing Office planned to integrate EPS with the existing Commerce Business Daily Net (CBDNet), a free online listing of government contracting and opportunities, to create an enhanced CBDNet system. However, that project was canceled because of uncertainty over how much it would cost and how it would be developed.

On its own, CBDNet is not scalable enough to roll out on a governmentwide basis, said Julie Basile, procurement analyst at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy in the Office of Management and Budget. In addition, CBDNet does not post the solicitation documents, only synopses.

EPS is the leading, and perhaps the only, candidate to be the single point of entry for government business opportunities. "The question is, 'Is EPS the right answer?' not 'Is it a winner among various candidates?' " said Ken Stepka, a procurement analyst at NASA.

Robert Sturm, co-chairman of the Federal Electronic Commerce Coalition industry group and vice president of business development at Electric Press Inc., said the group believes in EPS in principle. "We absolutely think this is the right idea. There has to be a way to minimize the time contractors go through searching for [business opportunities]," Sturm said.

However, EPS will be effective only if agencies are vigilant in updating their data and ensuring that all opportunities are made available there, which could be difficult to enforce, Sturm said.

OMB plans to meet with industry to make sure no other systems can provide EPS' level of service. Basile would not say when OMB will make its decision on what system to mandate, but observers said it could be as early as this fall.

If industry and agencies endorse EPS, there will be many opportunities for vendors, Fontaine said. GSA likely will outsource the operation of the EPS central index to a vendor. In addition, there would be a market for vendors to build solicitation posting modules that agencies could use to tie into EPS.

GSA is in the process of building a second site that will almost double the capacity of the current EPS system, Fontaine said. "Once we have the second system in place, we will be able to handle the entire federal government," he said.

***

Checking out EPS

* EPS Web site: eps.gov

* Vendor comments regarding EPS: feedback@eps.gov

* Comments to OMB regarding single point of entry: spe@arnet.gov

* Vendor feedback survey: eps.gov/survey

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