Inaugural committee swears by IT

From office equipment to parade-side bleachers and portable toilets, the General Services Administration must buy, borrow or lease thousands of items — and fast — for the presidential inauguration.

Delayed more than a month by vote recounts and court challenges, GSA's Presidential Inaugural Committee is scrambling to prepare for the elaborate Jan. 20 swearing-in of George W. Bush.

To get the job done, GSA is relying more than ever on information technology, according to harried inaugural committee procurement officials.

Special procurement software, for example, is making it possible to process more purchases and rentals with fewer people in a shorter time. The software manages acquisitions from the time a request for an item or service comes in until the purchase or lease is completed.

Thanks to the software, the committee's four-person procurement team can do more work in less time than it took a seven-member team during preparations for the last inauguration in 1997, a GSA official said.

The inauguration procurement team also relies on the Internet, which greatly speeds the process of comparing vendors' prices and delivery times. And cellular phones and e-mail help inaugural committee staff members to keep in touch — and often to keep working — long after office hours.

"Technology has changed tremendously since the last time," said a committee staff member who also worked on the 1997 inauguration. Back then, for example, the committee had fewer cellular phones and the phones had a shorter range, so reception was poorer and "we had a lot of down time."

The World Wide Web, too, was in its infancy, and far fewer vendors were equipped to provide quotations and accept orders electronically.

GSA's Presidential Inaugural Committee serves as a sort of logistics branch for three other committees — the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, the District of Columbia Inaugural Committee and the National Park Service Inaugural Committee.

After putting it all together for the swearing-in, the parade and numerous other inauguration day events, the GSA committee will spend a month taking it apart. The committee expects to disband in late March.

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