Federal regs, buying process 'out of sync'

The federal government must use information technology to speed the regulatory process if it wants to foster and adopt industry's newest technologies, which are developed at a rate that overwhelms the federal procurement process, according to a Commerce Department official.

The government's budget, procurement, certification and implementation cycle is so much slower than the pace of industry research and development that agencies cannot take advantage of commercial innovations that could improve the way government services are delivered, said Gary Bachula, deputy undersecretary for technology at the Commerce Department's Technology Administration. By the time agencies can buy the technology, the innovations are nearly obsolete, he said.

"We are out of sync," Bachula said at the White House National Science and Technology Council's Summit on Innovation: Federal Policy for the New Millennium conference held last week in Washington, D.C. "We've got to find ways to get our regulatory processes in sync with this new economy. I'd like to see the speed of government come up to the speed of innovation."

Using the Internet to enable government policy-makers to make multiple reviews of new legislation and regulations could significantly reduce the time and paperwork it takes to create new policy and thus get new technology in the hands of government officials, Bachula said in an interview.

"With the advent of modern information technology, we should be able to post a decision-making process in real time and make it visible to all parties, which is more democratic," he said. Routine activities, such as renewing driver's and pet licenses, filing taxes and conducting government procurements, should all be done on the Internet, he said.

Policies currently are created in a serial process rather than one in which reviews and markups are done in parallel, Bachula said. Collaboration among government officials via the Internet would reduce the number of versions of bills and speed the regulatory approval process, he said. Using IT might save a year in the approval process, he said.

For instance, the Transportation Department has developed a new stop sign that is cheaper, more reflective and more resistant to graffiti and bullets, said Fenton Carey, associate administrator for innovation, research and education at the Transportation Department. But it can't be used because it does not meet the technical specifications the agency has adopted, and revising those specifications will take time, he said.

The government typically takes three to four years to fund, contract and implement new technologies, but many needs cannot wait that long, Bachula said.

Adapting to electronic commerce and resolving the barriers and questions about international trade laws, the validity of digital signatures and contracts, privacy, security and reliability are immediate issues, Bachula said.

Consumers and international governments have demonstrated that they want to conduct business electronically, and the federal government must pave the way to meet that demand, he said.

Another issue that can't wait is creating the bandwidth necessary to meet the demands of e-commerce, Bachula said.

Other agencies need to follow the model set by NASA, which has promoted a faster, better and cheaper way of doing business by streamlining its procurement system and conducting a good portion of the source selection via the Internet, Carey said.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency also has successfully surmounted some procurement obstacles to innovation, Carey said. DARPA has created an "other transactions" category to conduct business outside the time and process-intensive procurement system, he said.

The purpose of the Summit on Innovation was to help the government create easier paths for government-funded and privately funded innovation.

The National Science and Technology Council will review the policies suggested by participants and choose a few that can be implemented in the final year of the Clinton administration, said Duncan Moore, associated director for technology at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Those ideas will appear in the State of the Union Address early in 2000, he said.

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