State pilot will let contracting officers create RFPs and receive bids online

With a technical assist from the Army, the State Department next month will launch an
electronic commerce pilot.


Using its own Web site as a front end, State will piggyback on the online buying system
created by the Army's Communications-Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth, N.J. CECOM will
charge State a one-time $30,000 fee.


The Army and State will formally announce the project early next month during a
ceremony at Fort Monmouth.


The state pilots will let contracting officers create solicitations and receive
proposals online, said Robert Dickson, executive director of State's Bureau of
Administration, this month at the Information Processing Interagency Conference in New
Orleans.


State's Office of the Procurement Executive will test the system. State is considering
testing it at an embassy in Europe.


If successful, Dickson said, the tests will lead to use departmentwide. "We're
going to walk before we run," he said.


The Army's CECOM spent six weeks and $70,000 creating the Business Opportunity Page,
which the service uses to handle $4.2 billion in information technology buys, said Matt
Meinert, who runs the project for the Army. If the department decides to continue using
the system after the pilot, it will pay the Army a $5,000 annual fee.


CECOM's system lets buyers search for contracts by the name of the contracting officer,
the Commerce Business Daily category or the type of solicitation. The Army built the
system with commercial products, including Lotus Development Domino Server.


Domino lets buyers use the program without having to download applications or other
data from the site's server. Domino also lets vendors check the status of their projects.


"It's beyond thin-client. It's no-client," said a State electronic commerce
official. "The reason we chose it is because of the architecture."


Dickson said the role of the Internet at State and elsewhere is still largely
undefined. "It is clear that the Internet is part of the American workplace, but it's
just not clear how much," he said.


The Army application is secure, Meinert said, because it uses Secure Sockets Layer to
protect data during transmission.


Although the Army is pleased with the program's success, upgrades continue. For
instance, CECOM recently added e-mail notification to alert vendors to upcoming contract
meetings, Meinert said.


Dickson said electronic commerce will help streamline the department's procurement
process and decrease reliance on a highly trained procurement staff. State, he said, faces
the same problems as other agencies in adapting to procurement reform and attracting and
retaining qualified personnel.


"We are clearly going through a time when we have to reassess roles and
responsibilities," Dickson said. But despite the greater use of technology in the
buying process, agencies must maintain strong managers, he said. 


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