OMB documents pave the way to explore electronic commerce

Agencies working to clear a way for electronic commerce via the Internet have good
starting points in a pair of Office of Management and Budget reports to Congress.


The documents, An Assessment of Current Electronic Commerce Activities and
Procurement
and Electronic Commerce for Buyers and Sellers: A Strategic Plan for
Federal Electronic Purchasing and Payment
, appear in hypertext on the World Wide Web
at http://policyworks.gov/epic.


One OMB author described them to me as blueprints "to integrate procurement and
payment with the latest technology and best business practices."


That's an ambitious goal. OMB hopes agencies will adopt ideas from the reports to
assemble an EC tool kit for setting up purchase cards and electronic catalogs and
re-engineering processes.


Most procurement managers have concluded EC via the Internet will be easier and cheaper
than channeling all electronic procurement through a central resource such as the Federal
Acquisition Network.


FACNET's selling point was that it gave vendors a single interface to government
buyers. The problem is that new, more efficient interfaces are coming along, and agencies
want to experiment with them.


The National Defense Authorization Act, passed late last year, gave the Defense
Department and agencies the go-ahead to explore options other than FACNET, which is one of
many strategies outlined in the OMB reports.


After reading them, your next stop should be the Acquisition Reform Network's site at http://www.arnet.gov/.


The site operates in conjunction with the Interagency Acquisition Internet Council at http://www.arnet.gov/IAIC/.


"There are a lot of electronic commerce opportunities on the Internet," said
Richard Galloway, chairman of the IAIC Virtual Library Team. "One function of IAIC is
to help people take advantage of what's there instead of trying to roll their own."


IAIC shares information about successful pilots of EC systems.


Galloway said some agencies simply want to search the Internet to find vendors, peruse
online catalogs and make IMPAC credit card purchases. To do that, a buyer needs only
encrypted e-mail transmission.


IAIC takes part in other projects to promote online commerce, such as an electronic
posting system to augment the Commerce Business Daily site at http://cbdnet.access.gpo.gov/. Each agency could
post its solicitations there. All postings would be visible on the CBD site.


IAIC is developing for the General Services Administration a shared Federal Acquisition
Regulation database.


Many agencies have their own acquisition supplements to FAR, and more regulations exist
for federal property management and travel.


The OMB documents touch on Extensible Markup Language, the shared FAR and other IAIC
projects as test beds for tomorrow's online procurement systems.


Any federal procurement officer would do well to study the documents and learn about
the technologies that will drive online procurement. It's certain to have a big impact on
procurement jobs in the years ahead.


Shawn P. McCarthy is a computer journalist, webmaster and Internet programmer for
Cahners Publishing Co. E-mail him at smccarthy@cahners.com.


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