Farewell, FACNET?

Is it time to pull the plug on the Federal Acquisition Network?


That may be premature, but clearly the government needs to rethink its approach to
meeting the Dec. 31 deadline for agencies to be conducting procurement electronically.
FACNET is another example of where fast-moving events and technology have overcome a
questionable method for achieving a worthwhile goal.


A while back, I wrote here that agencies were focusing too much effort on
electronically doing requests for quotes and related front-end activities. Better to spend
the effort automating the routine, high-volume transactions that follow a contract award.


Some agencies, such as NASA and EPA, disagree, citing successful bid/evaluation/award
efforts on line.


Either way, though, is FACNET the way to go? Judging from FACNET traffic figures
compiled by GSA, feds don't think so. The above-mentioned agencies went directly to the
Internet, bypassing FACNET.


FACNET's unpopularity among feds also reflects its unpopularity with vendors. Many
vendors claim that participation in FACNET is too expensive and difficult. It is
relatively cheap and easy to get onto the Web. So although in theory government ought to
be able to dictate how and where it buys, there are limitations to this power.


It's no knock on FACNET--or the folks at Office of Federal Procurement Policy and GSA
who conceived it--that the Internet has rendered it irrelevant. Heck, they're in good
company. Organizations as mighty as Microsoft are flailing about to establish a footing in
the Internet.


But the Internet alone isn't the reason for FACNET's troubles. The effort also was
overtaken by legislative procurement reform and the total overhaul of GSA's Multiple-Award
Schedule system.


A government computer buyer now has much greater spending authority and vendor
selection latitude. The popular IMPAC card probably is easiest for small buys. For larger
ones, there's the new MAS, which is essentially a governmentwide IDIQ, or an existing
agency IDIQ. These vehicles let buyers avoid issuing RFQs and the other steps in a
complete procurement, whether on line or paper.


Government purchasing is far more electronic than it was. All the buying options have
electronic elements, even when a telephone call or piece of paper initiates them. So it
would be a mistake to use FACNET traffic as the only measure of progress toward electronic
commerce.


FACNET was a good idea. It may have become obsolete before its time.


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