Enlist newsgroups to circulate procurement information

With all its resources and management attention, why has FACNET, the Federal
Acquisition Network, been so slow to get going? Perhaps the delay is the result of a major
conceptual flaw.

Although there has been talk about using the Internet, FACNET has adopted a traditional
network, rather than internetwork, paradigm. FACNET implementers appear to see the
Internet as a low-cost, limited-function, value-added network (VAN).

Thus the requirements for electronic data interchange reliability, nonrepudiation, data
integrity and so on are seen as network responsibilities. The conventional EDI VAN
provides a high degree of accountability and control, even when it's not needed.

In the Internet paradigm, if you want this kind of service, you invest in host computer
systems. Security, authentication and reliability are built at the endpoints at the
trading partner's systems, not in the network. The beauty of the Internet is that it does
so little, but what it does, it does so well.

In contrast, the VAN approach, reasonable for many needs, is overkill for requests for
quotations, requests for information, and other contract notices. Yet these same RFIs and
RFQs are the major concern of Congress and its FACNET mandate. Agencies have put these
messages into the same high-quality pipeline appropriate for delivery orders and purchase

This is inefficient. RFIs, RFQs and notices of award are like fliers and should be sent
to the four winds, not just to those companies that can afford to subscribe to the VANs.
However, many procurement officials prefer limited distribution for requests for
quotations; broadcasting RFQs probably will generate spurious replies from unqualified

Should agencies turn RFQs into Web pages on their Web servers? Perhaps not. Software
can convert announcements into simple Web pages, but the information would be relatively
slow and awkward to retrieve. Instead of having it delivered to one's in-box, businesses
would have to search several Web sites. Moreover, these notices would be seen only by
high-end Internet users who can browse the Web.

To avoid paying top dollar to put these numerous ephemeral transactions on high-cost
Web or VAN services, agencies could use Internet newsgroups to post announcements of
requests for comments, solicitations and awards. Articles from many agencies would be
delivered worldwide to the newsgroup subscribers for a pittance.

The newsgroups would sort notices by type of product or service rather than by the
originating agency. Potential bidders need only scan notices for relevant categories.
Newsgroups for posting solicitations for federal agencies also could be used by state and
local government agencies. Discussion newsgroups would let participants collaborate on
software and discuss ways of using other free software and search services.

The National Performance Review and FinanceNet sponsor the GOVNEWS project to
demonstrate the use of Internet newsgroups for disseminating government information.
Agencies can post solicitations on newsgroups with little administrative overhead; only a
basic PC with Internet e-mail is required.

Those with existing automated systems should find it easy to implement a back-end
posting of notices generated from those systems. The cost of electronic publication via
newsgroups is negligible--the cost of a single e-mail message. Likewise, the cost of
subscribing to newsgroups is the cost of basic Internet service, which many small
businesses may have already.

According to Carl Hage, GOVNEWS project leader, newsgroups also could provide a forum
for vendors, value-added service providers and government agencies to exchange ideas on
how to use the Internet and find the best match between buyer and seller. Discussions
would include ideas about formatting messages so they can be easily processed by software
to feed database searching and filtering services. Of particular importance will be
conventions for classifying and indexing contracts.

Via Internet newsgroups, individual users, archive sites, libraries, government
agencies and value-added service companies all would receive the broadcast messages
directly to their local systems. Software would be available to filter, search and archive
this information.

A user might keep his or her own database, use a database at an archive site or use a
database at a value-added service company. The data would be freely available to the
public; businesses would choose how to buy or sell value-added services for managing and
analyzing the data.

Go to http://www.govnews.org/govnews/
  to learn more about GOVNEWS. To get involved, send an e-mail message to majordomo@census.gov  with contents
"subscribe govnews yourname@email.address" where your name@email address is your
e-mail address. GOVNEWS is a cost-effective way to reach vendors and reduce the costs of
electronic information dissemination.

Walter R. Houser, who has more than two decades of experience in federal
information management, is webmaster for a Cabinet agency. His own Web home page is at http://www.//cpcug.org/user/houser/.


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