Business Gateway leaders weigh outsourcing

'The Business Gateway strategy, architecture and funding have not been fully agreed to.'

'GSA's Mary Mitchell

Officials managing the Business Gateway e-government project will decide by September whether to outsource the day-to-day management of more than 4,000 federal forms.

The project's executive board is analyzing the alternatives before turning over its business case to the Office of Management and Budget by Sept. 13, as part of the fiscal 2006 budget submission.

Keith Thurston, the General Services Administration's assistant deputy associate administrator for the Office of E-Government and Technology, said the analysis will help the executive committee decide the scope of the project, which will be reflected in a request for proposals scheduled for 2005.

'We could contract out hosting services and have an integrator incorporate agency forms into the system,' Thurston said. 'Or we could buy the entire process as a service and have one company handle it all. We want to see what the marketplace offers.'

The executive board's analysis has slowed the project, one of the 25 Quicksilver initiatives, after it made significant progress over the past year.

The Small Business Administration, the agency lead, in May launched its Business.gov Web site, putting more than 3,000 public forms online. The site receives more than 38,000 visits a day and eventually is to host more than 4,100 federal forms. GSA provides secondary help to SBA on the project.

'The Business Gateway strategy, architecture and funding have not been fully agreed to,' said Mary Mitchell, GSA's deputy assistant administrator in the Office of Governmentwide Policy. 'That has held us up this year. The alternatives analysis will help agencies feel comfortable with their investment.'

Confusion

The delay also prompted GSA to recompete a contract for forms used mainly by federal employees. The two types of forms confused vendors waiting for the larger Business Gateway RFP, Mitchell said. The E-Forms site has about 400 forms, of which 250 are used only by federal employees.

'The initial announcement that came out for the E-Forms system was not clearly written for the audience, and we had to clarify it in the question-and-answer process,' Mitchell said.

GSA considered extending the current contract, but Mitchell said it cost too much.

'The current contract charged GSA based on the number of users,' she said. 'Many of the forms were for federal employees, but there still were enough forms used by the public to make this pricing model too expensive.'

Thurston said GSA would encourage vendors to price the two kinds of services differently. He could not go into detail about the new pricing models because GSA hasn't yet awarded the new contract.

GSA's internal forms contract eventually could be integrated with the Business Gateway forms catalog, but Thurston said that decision will not come for some time.

The portal lets users file forms in multiple ways. For example, the Patent and Trademark Office has issued more than 14,000 digital certificates using public-key infrastructure technology to attorneys who file forms online via the Business Gateway.

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