Feds pose e-biz competition

Some private industry representatives are complaining that the federal government's

e-commerce activities go beyond what's appropriate for organizations supported

by taxpayer dollars.

"The government is entering into areas not proper for the government, intruding

on areas currently occupied by private-sector participants in competition,"

said Jason Mahler, vice president and general counsel at the Computer and

Communications Industry Association, a Washington, D.C., trade group. CCIA

objects to new e-commerce activities of the U.S. Postal Service.

The agency has changed from USPS.gov to USPS.com to operate an e-commerce

service portal. The first service is an online bill payment service.

"This competes with the Intuit and Yahoo portals," Mahler said. "They shouldn't

be allowed to cross-subsidize money-making ventures with taxpayer money."

The Postal Service says it simply wants its portal to pay off.

CCIA also opposes the Internal Revenue Service's plans to let citizens prepare

and file forms directly online, arguing this is unfair competition against

private-sector World Wide Web sites that perform the same service.

On the other hand, the U.S. government is often pressured by the private

sector to expand its role in e-commerce. Within the CIO Council, there's

much discussion about the high cost of providing Web-based services to citizens,

said Mary Mitchell, the General Services Administration's e-commerce policy

chief for the civilian government agencies. Some private companies have

offered to help.

"The private sector would love to sell advertising on government sites,"

Mitchell said, noting that although there's no official policy ban on it,

agencies so far have had "an emotional resistance to advertising."

"I had several companies, including the Redskins [football team] contact

us this month," said Al Iagnemmo, project manager for GSA Advantage. "I

just said no."

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