EDITORIAL

GSA's choice

Thomas R. Temin

The General Services Ad-ministration surprised a lot of people when it chose not to continue with the Inktomi Corp. technology for the second-generation search engine for its FirstGov portal. Inktomi had donated the search services and the hardware to host FirstGov, so many assumed it would have the incumbent's advantage.

In choosing AT&T Corp. as the prime services contractor for FirstGov's search function, program officials are instead getting technology from Fast Search and Transfer ASA. Immediately, some of the disgruntled bidders faulted the agency for choosing a foreign product, since Fast Search and Transfer is headquartered in Oslo, Norway, and was started by a group of Norwegian computer scientists.

Sure, there are plenty of American companies with excellent search engines for hire, but faulting GSA's choice because it is Norwegian strikes me as the worst sort of sour grapes by the losing bidders who made it an issue.

Norway is a member in good standing of NATO. It is not on any government-restricted list of source countries. Anyhow, Fast Search and Transfer is a subcontractor'AT&T is the prime and the corporation with which GSA has the contractual arrangement.

To hear some of the griping, you'd think the search technology was developed by Osama bin Laden or in the People's Republic of China. But, heck, true-blue Dell Computer Corp. has a 4 million-share chunk of the company.

The only criterion by which to judge AT&T's assemblage of subs is how well the search function works and how well AT&T fulfills the contract terms.

According to Deborah Diaz, the deputy associate administrator in the Office of FirstGov, the contract allows for a switch in search engines if, during predeployment tests, the chosen one doesn't work out.

Is Fast Search and Transfer any good? The proof will be in the quality of FirstGov search results'where there is room for improvement.

Contractors ought to be judged on technical merit and other performance issues, not on nationality.

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