EC sigh of relief

It should come as welcome news to agency buyers that the administration has effectively
shelved its policy mandating the Federal Acquisition Computer Network, or FACNET.


Administration officials won't put it in those words, of course, but it's clear to
them-as it has been to nearly everyone else-that FACNET is not the best medium for
conducting most agency buys.


As we reported last issue, President Clinton, through the Office of Management and
Budget, is now willing to accept a variety of systems as constituting electronic commerce.
Nearly all government buying, you'll recall, was supposed to be electronic by Jan. 1.


When the buying policy was first put forth, electronic meant electronic data
interchange, a costly, difficult-to-implement mechanism requiring use of private,
value-added networks. FACNET was supposed to funnel all federal buying activity to these
VANs.


In early attempts at EC, agencies solicited requests for proposals
electronically-something for which FACNET proved particularly unsuited. Some agencies were
deluged with electronic submissions that were harder to deal with than paper. Others got
scant response to electronic RFPs.


This caused frustration. The network was never well-liked by vendors, either,
particularly 8(a) and other small companies, many of which lacked the wherewithal to take
on the complexity and expense of EDI.


Another problem is the nature of government buys. One study showed that 98 percent of
FACNET buys were below the $25,000 micro-purchase threshold. Credit cards or three phone
calls are more efficient for such buys.


Luckily, just as the FACNET initiative got rolling, the World Wide Web and
near-universal access to Internet e-mail came along, providing new electronic commerce
possibilities.


Not that e-mail is a substitute for true electronic commerce. Even without FACNET and
EDI, electronic commerce that's secure and reliable is a nontrivial undertaking.


Luckily, Tony Trenkle of the General Services Administration and Paul Grant of the
Defense Department, the new co-chairmen of the EC Program Management Office, understand
this. No doubt their predecessors did, too. The difference is that the new EC crowd isn't
laboring under an impossible FACNET mandate.


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