No-frills procurement site planned

FPDS-NG site

Officials from the General Services Administration outlined plans July 11 for a frills-free system that can store and report data on everything the federal government buys, and vendors are being asked to step forward with ideas on how to create it.

An interagency team led by GSA plans to release July 25 the request for proposals on the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation (FPDS-NG). The system is part of the Bush administration's Integrated Acquisition Environment e-government initiative, but officials across government have been working for years to define agency requirements.

Although the proposed system has also been known as the Federal Acquisition Management Information System, for now the system's official name is FPDS-NG because of copyright issues concerning the FAMIS acronym, Pat Brooks, program manager at GSA, told vendors gathered for an industry day held at GSA headquarters.

The proposed Web-based system — which is expected to be up and running no later than Oct. 1, 2003 — will provide contracting officers and managers across government with a basic HTML interface to submit and get reports on all procurement data.

Several vendors raised concerns about the requirement for the system to include no JavaScript, Macromedia Inc. Flash plug-ins or other special technology, but it is important to leave those and other technologies out of the solution, said John Cochran, the program's information technology specialist. There is no way to tell what system or software every user has, and users will have neither the time nor the inclination to handle error messages or requests for downloads, he said.

"We're more interested in it working than it being particularly fancy," he said. "Efficiency is going to be more important to them than fancy interfaces."

The current system is more than 20 years old and no longer meets the needs of the federal acquisition community or federal managers, said Mike Sade, co-chairman of the Procurement Executives Council's technology working group, which has led the development of the new system.

"It's a nice database. It's served its purpose for a number of years, but the world has changed," he said.

The GSA team is focusing on changes in agency needs and the technology available to fulfill them, Sade said. Agencies need more information on socio-economic goals and purchase card buys. They need to eliminate the multiple "feeder systems" currently necessary to transfer information from agency-specific systems to FPDS-NG. They need to be able to get real-time information in to and out of the system.

But the most important expected benefit of the FPDS-NG will be enhanced accuracy of data, Sade said. Procurement data will go directly from an agency's financial or acquisition system to FPDS-NG instead of going through "too many hands," he said, adding that "not all of those hands understand the procurement system."

The draft RFP released June 26 is based on agencies' requirements, but the GSA team is relying on industry to provide the best solution rather than setting out multiple specifications, Brooks said.

"We really don't know what the potential solution may be," she said.

The draft outlines four options for the type of solution a vendor could propose, ranging from a system entirely owned and operated by the government to one owned and operated by a contractor. But if there are other combinations that could better serve the government's needs, GSA wants industry to come forward with those ideas, Brooks said.

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