Mandatory EC clock is ticking

Before long, they will have no choice.


The first step in the government's move to mandatory EC is the Central Contractor
Registry (CCR), where vendors must register by Oct. 1 if they want to do business with
Uncle Sam.


So far, only about 6,000 companies appear in the registry, despite the fact that
"the 800-pound gorilla has spoken," said Jim Gordy, lead software engineer for
the DISA registry. "This is not for negotiation," Gordy said. "The laws
have been passed."


The number of registered companies may jump as high 36,000 by Nov. 30, as new payment
regulations go into effect, but that figure represents as few as 10 percent of Defense
Department vendors, Gordy said.


Because of the decentralized nature of DOD acquisition, nobody knows the exact number
of vendors.


However many there are, Gordy said, few seem to have gotten the message about the
registry.


"Personally, I don't see that the word is spreading," he said.


DOD is the government's largest buyer. Defense officials have mounted an outreach
initiative, attending trade shows to tell vendors the CCR is a condition, not an option,
for doing federal business.


DOD is following the carrot-and-stick approach to get vendors registered.


The carrot: contractors can use the directory as a single source for locating trading
partners. DOD estimates EC could cut out nearly $300 worth of paperwork per purchase.


The stick: After Oct. 1, only companies in the registry will get paid. Gordy said DOD
is realistic about this deadline because all the department's vendors are unlikely to be
registered by then, and it may be impractical to stop paying so many at that point. No one
knows what will happen Oct. 1 or whether the deadline can be extended, he said.


Gathering all the companies with federal business into a single database is just the
first step toward universal EC. All agencies are supposed to be EC-ready this year, and
the goal is to carry out 95 percent of all transactions electronically by the end of the
century.


Seventeen civilian agencies use DISA's EC hubs to route procurement information. This
system proved inadequate for many needs until an upgrade last fall boosted its capability.
The old network entry points were replaced by EC processing nodes (ECPNs) at the DISA
megacenters in Columbus, Ohio, and Ogden, Utah.


The ECPNs have four-processor Hewlett-Packard Co. 9000 Model T520 servers running the
HP-UX operating system. They link directly to DOD's Nonclassified IP Router Network
(NIPRnet).


The nodes have addressing and routing capabilities to connect 29 value-added networks
to 454 federal contracting sites.


Node services soon will include translation to American National Standards Institute
X12 transaction sets, said Lt. Col. Michael McFarren, DISA's chief EC/electronic data
interchange engineer.


The EC system now can transmit a contracting agency's request for quotes and vendor
responses as well as purchase orders, changes and acknowledgements. The next step will be
payment, McFarren said.


An interface with the payment system is in the study stage. "I have not formally
put that out in a task order on any of my contracts yet," McFarren said.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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