Search engine pegged at $10.5 M

The new search engine selected for the federal Internet portal FirstGov may cost more than $10.5 million during the next five years, according to a contract award notice published March 11 by the General Services Administration.

The total, which is about $700,000 more than the amount GSA cited March 8, includes money the agency would have to pay if it terminates the contract early, GSA acquisition chief David Drabkin said. Ultimately, the extra sum may not have to be paid, he said.

In January, GSA officials estimated the new search engine would cost about $8 million.

GSA announced March 7 that it is buying search engine services from AT&T Business Services and a Norwegian company, Fast Search & Transfer.

News of the higher price set off a new wave of complaints from losing bidders, one of whom offered search services for FirstGov at $7.2 million during five years.

The GSA award notice said that AT&T and its search engine partner, Fast Search & Transfer of Oslo, offered the federal government the best value in a new search engine for FirstGov.

However, competing companies, including Inktomi Corp. and Yahoo Portal Solutions, have demanded "debriefings" from GSA to learn more about why their bids were rejected. After the debriefings, companies will decide whether to further challenge the award, one company official said.

The award notice says GSA will pay AT&T $10,570,303 during five years for search engine services for FirstGov.

The contract, which was to have been awarded Feb. 28, calls for the winner to install and test a search engine and be ready to take over FirstGov search duties April 1. Because the contract was awarded a week late, GSA is negotiating with AT&T about whether the start date will be moved, Drabkin said.

The search engine must be able to search 51 million federal and state Web pages in a fraction of a second and retrieve files in a variety of formats, including PDF, HTML, Extensible Markup Language, plain text and Microsoft Corp. PowerPoint, Excel and Word.

The new search engine is supposed to provide more relevant search results than the current Inktomi engine does. In a notice to bidders in January, GSA said a search for the term "white house," for example, should display the phrase "George Bush lives in the White House" before it displays "Al's house is also white."

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