Agencies miss Jan. 1 EDI goal

The president's deadline for agencies to use electronic commerce for most buys came and
went on Jan. 1. Now the administration is re-evaluating its stance and revamping its plans
for online buying.

Originally, President Clinton had wanted all agencies to be using a government
electronic data interchange network for the bulk of their procurement activities by this
year. But the deadline passed with little fanfare and with most agencies still
experimenting with different online buying techniques.

Now a new team of electronic commerce chiefs is forging ahead with more-open plans,
giving agencies greater latitude to pursue various online buying projects-ranging from
credit card buys to full EDI transaction systems.

Two new executive committees will lead policy and standards development for
governmentwide electronic commerce, and a revamped EC Program Management Office will serve
as troubleshooter and coordinator for interagency initiatives.

The government's original EC philosophy had stressed EDI solutions beginning with the
construction of the Federal Acquisition Computer Network. Under the strategy, agencies use
a conglomeration of federal networks and the Internet to link with contractors via
value-added networks. An interagency team developed the plans and created federal
conventions of the ANSI X12 standard for EDI transaction sets for FACNET.

Despite earlier presidential mandates, the new EC-PMO co-chairmen said the
administration's focus has shifted from boosting FACNET traffic and registering electronic
trading partners to helping agencies use all available EC tools to re-engineer business

"The emphasis is on the toolkit of various options to improve business processes
as opposed to focusing strictly on FACNET. We don't want to shoehorn agencies into a
specific architecture," said Tony Trenkle, director of EC for the General Services
Administration's Office of Acquisition Policy. "Everyone is EC compliant to some
extent when you take a look at the broad spectrum. Agencies have met the spirit of the
president's memo."

Paul D. Grant, special assistant for EC to the deputy assistant secretary of Defense
for acquisition, approves of the new approach. "The landscape is changing. The
procurement reform laws and rule changes have been helpful to the technology
changes," he said. "There's no one panacea. It's a collection of electronic
benefits transfers, electronic funds transfers, credit cards and electronic catalogs,
which are all tools for electronic commerce."

The administration's strategy shift began last summer when John Koskinen, the Office of
Management and Budget's deputy director for management, ordered GSA to work with the
departments of Agriculture, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Treasury in devising a
mechanism for governmentwide EC policy support, interagency coordination and EC technical

Koskinen called for the agencies to expand use of federal credit cards, electronic
benefits transfers and electronic funds transfers. In response, acting GSA Administrator
David J. Barram proposed creating the new Electronic Processes Initiatives Committee
(EPIC), an EC Steering Committee and EC working groups.

EPIC will function as a subgroup under the President's Management Council. With
representatives from GSA, OMB, Treasury and DOD, the team will meet several times a year
to chart EC policy and goals.

The EC Steering Committee will be EPIC's executive agent for developing policy
strategies, resolving problems and monitoring overall EC development efforts in the

Chaired by GSA, the steering committee will have as initial members senior
representatives from top federal management groups including the Chief Information
Officers Council, the Chief Financial Officers Council and the Federal Procurement

As for the revised EC-PMO, Trenkle and Grant serve as co-chairmen. They succeed G.
Martin Wagner, who last year was named associate GSA administrator for the Office of
Policy, Planning and Evaluation, and Deane Erwin, who retired last year from his post as
functional information management director in the DOD IT Directorate.

Trenkle and Grant will work with other agency representatives to identify the best EC
tools, coordinate interagency initiatives and help solve user problems. The reworked
EC-PMO replaced the original EC Acquisition PMO, which had stressed awareness and
compliance with the FACNET EDI architecture.

"The PMO's original role was awareness because not everyone knew what EC was.
We'll now work with EPIC and the steering committee to be a coordinator and
catalyst," Trenkle said. Grant said EPIC's immediate task will be drafting a
strategic EC policy statement that all agencies will support.

After that, EPIC, the steering committee and the PMO will all work to improve EC
security, define a minimum set of electronic trading partner data requirements and
establish standard EC platforms.

"Security is the forefront of the technology issues," Grant said. "There
need to be assurances that the transactions get through on time with means for ensuring
authentication and integrity."

"For contractor registration, everyone has different data requirements,"
Trenkle said. "The idea is to see what's out there that's easy to use, define and
clean up existing databases, and then decide how to expand the databases to meet the

Trenkle said the best way to gauge the current status of federal EC is to look at the
core business functions and customer profiles. Every agency has a basic EC capability, but
the volume of activity varies depending on the business niche, he said.

"GSA, the Defense Logistics Agency and other agencies that deal with commodities
are heavy into electronic catalogs, while agencies like NASA with a more defined
constituency are making greater use of the Web," Trenkle said. "Agencies that do
a lot of business with large contractors are most likely using EDI. GSA Advantage also
offers credit card users EDI, but it's all done at the back end of the system."

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