NASA system may fly at Justice

NASA's pioneering World Wide Web-based site for procurement officials has

sparked interest at the Justice Department as a way to make the move from

file cabinets to e-procurement.

NASA's Virtual Procurement Office (VPO) offers contracting specialists

a resource on governmentwide and NASA procurement regulations and a tool

for building and tracking solicitations.

"We've got to have some automation, or we'll drown in the paperwork,"

said Melissa Richardson, assistant director of Justice's procurement services

staff. NASA officials described the initiative June 28 at a Justice conference

intended to update the department's contract managers about the latest procurement

rules and regulations, contract vehicles and approaches. The discussion

also included the General Services Administration's online auction.

As a result of the educational exchange, Richardson said she plans to

invite interested Justice procurement officials to meet with NASA representatives

to review NASA's VPO up close and discuss the possibility of adapting it

to the Justice Department's needs.

"If we like it and fully understand other associated costs to operate

and maintain it, I believe it has tremendous possibility in helping us streamline

processes, track data close to real time and, most importantly, free up

the time of the procurement professional to work closer with the customer

to formulate strategies that yield sound and cost- reasonable results,"

Richardson said.

NASA developed VPO with such adaptation in mind, said Jim Bradford,

NASA Acquisition Internet Service project leader at Marshall Space Flight

Center.

NASA's goal was to create online procurement tools — from creating a

solicitation to posting it to interacting with the vendor — that are standard

enough for the entire government to use, he said. Bradford and Tom Deback,

VPO team leader and a procurement analyst at NASA headquarters in Washington,

D.C., spoke at the Department of Justice Acquisition Conference.

Federal agencies need to follow the commercial model for doing business

and have the capability to conduct more acquisitions electronically, said

Robyn Dyson Towles, deputy director of Justice's Acquisition Management

Division.

"We can no longer afford to be just in the acquisition business. We

have to be a solutions business," Towles said. Customers do not care about

the process used to make purchases; they just want to reach the end result

efficiently, she said.

"We have to look at the tools that assist us in automating the process

so we can do our job faster, smarter, cheaper," a variation of the faster,

better, cheaper philosophy at NASA, Towles said.

In its second phase of VPO, the space agency plans to add capabilities

such as individual log-ons that will identify the procurement official using

the system, help track an individual's documents and enable him or her to

log on once and use any procurement application, Deback said.

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