Sole source: FedBizOpps portal sets standard for integrated government

What began life as a small electronic-procurement pilot at NASA has grown into an e-government giant.

The program is Federal Business Opportunities, better known as FedBizOpps, a governmentwide procurement portal that exemplifies the Bush administration’s vision for integrated, cross-agency government.

Since last year, FedBizOpps, at www.fedbizopps.gov, has been the government’s official site for listing and finding solicitations valued at $25,000 or more.

About 100 federal agencies post notices on FedBizOpps, and more than 400,000 registered vendors search the site for contract opportunities. In a recent month, the site, which is searchable by solicitation number, date, procurement classification code and agency, got 32 million hits.
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“We’re like pioneers,” said Stuart Dvorkin, FedBizOpps program manager for the General Services Administration’s Federal Supply Service, which runs the portal. “The whole idea of the [Quicksilver] e-gov intiatives and the President’s Management Agenda is to do away with agency-specific applications and duplication. In FedBizOpps you have a governmentwide application that satisfies the requirements of all these diverse agencies with diverse needs and interests.”

FedBizOpps’ predecessor was the Government Printing Office’s Commerce Business Daily—a hard-copy publication with crinkly yellow paper and tiny, box-score-size type—and Commerce Business Daily Net, a rudimentary electronic version.

In addition, some agencies had their own Web sites for posting contract notices, such as the Defense Department’s BusOpps site.

FedBizOpps began its own life in the mid-1990s as an agency-specific project at NASA called the Electronic Posting System. But its potential for wider use was recognized early on, and GSA took over the project in 1998.

In a February 1999 report on the program, the General Accounting Office extolled EPS’ prospects as a cross-government electronic posting system.

GAO described the system as “a simple, effective and user-friendly system for disseminating information on contracting opportunities.”

The congressional watchdog also said that the system had contributed to development of a more streamlined agency acquisition process.

GSA continued to develop the system and by May 2001, when changes to the Federal Acquisition Regulation mandated that it replace the Commerce Business Daily, it was being used by nearly 6,000 government buyers.

“GSA took responsibility for this application, revised it, tuned it and basically rewrote it,” Dvorkin said.

The upgrade

The agency worked with Science Applications International Corp., the prime contractor, and Information Sciences Corp. of Silver Spring, Md., to upgrade the portal so that it could handle the rising volume of postings.

In revamping the portal, the development team coded the software in Java 3 Enterprise Edition, incorporating a modular, object-oriented design approach to make it more scalable and easier to upgrade.

The team also implemented dual production environments to ensure that users would have maximum accessibility to the portal.

“We’re like a bank or a financial institution,” Dvorkin said. “We’ve got to be up all of the time. The bottom line is if you’re going to be up and reliable, you have to have duplicate sites and data replication between those sites,” Dvorkin said.

One of FedBizOpps’ biggest plus points is its free e-mail notification service, which automatically transmits customized announcements to subscribers after new information is posted on the site.

Vendors receive e-mail notifications based on their profiles and Federal Supply Code numbers, which categorize the commodities and services they provide.

The FedBizOpps e-mail server delivers 130,000 to 150,000 e-mail notices daily, Dvorkin said.

The e-mail notification service also levels the playing field among contractors because small contractors don’t have to subscribe to expensive information services to compete with large vendors, FSS officials said.

“Within an hour of posting the opportunity, the entire [vendor] community has access, whether it’s a major multinational corporation or a small mom-and-pop shop,” Dvorkin said.

Last year, officials pondered charging contractors an annual fee of $30 for e-mail notification but have taken no action yet.

“That was something we were considering, but it now seems to be on hold,” Dvorkin said.

FedBizOpps’ annual cost of about $6 million is financed largely by the Federal Supply Service, though agencies kick in some usage fees.

Beginning next year, however, FedBizOpps will be funded under the GSA’s Integrated Acquisition Environment, one of the Office of Management and Budget’s 24 Quicksilver initiatives, Dvorkin said.

As is the case with many government electronic initiatives, one of the biggest hurdles to implementing FedBizOpps was cultural.

One challenge, for example, was getting agencies to break away from their own systems. “In government, every agency has their own fiefdom, so that’s been tough,” Dvorkin said.

Job for a cowpoke

“When you create a cross-agency application, you’re potentially adversely affecting federal employees and their job security,” he added. “If you’re creating a governmentwide application to replace [an agency-specific application], you’re going to have resistance from both private-sector companies and agencies that don’t want to lose control. They have an application that works, and now you’re telling them to stop using that application.”

Rallying agencies around the FedBizOpps cause was like “herding cats,” Dvorkin said. But in the end GSA officials were able to convince agencies to look at the benefits that would flow from a governmentwide system.

Despite their accomplishments, the FedBizOpps team isn’t resting on its laurels. Major enhancements to the portal are in the works.

The development team will begin testing a new release, which includes new search capabilities, around Nov. 1.

Beyond that, officials envision important enhancements, including a bid module that would let vendors submit proposals online.

Officials also would like to add a component that would let winning bidders use FedBizOpps to post subcontracting opportunities to help small businesses.

Such things won’t happen overnight.

“These are large enhancements,” Dvorkin said. “This is not something you’re talking about doing in a year. These are functional enhancements that we would like to see in the application over time.”

For FSS officials, FedBizOpps is always a work in progress.

“We see ourselves as constantly evolving and growing,” Dvorkin said.

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