Contracting officials focus on price, configuration before buying online

Who’s buying online and what are they looking for?


So far, federal contracting officers seem to be using Web sites primarily for
configuration and price information. A few are making small buys from vendor sites.


“I want to go to a Web site that’s easy to use and has a powerful search
engine that doesn’t reject my query,” said Francis X. Duggan Jr., contract
specialist at the Naval Sea Logistics Center in Mechanicsburg, Pa.


Even though Duggan is concerned about the security of online buying, he said he has
made three or four small purchases during the past year.


When he buys software, the vendor returns an e-mailed authorization number that Duggan
gives to his NAVSEA users. They use the number to download the software from the
vendor’s Web site, he said.


Duggan’s favorite Web sites are the Navy’s ITEC Direct and GSA Advantage. He
likes the Navy site’s friendliness and its search engine.


The General Services Administration site’s shopping cart lets him pile up products
and get a price quote, he said.


In making online purchases, Duggan appears to be in the minority among contracting
officers GCN interviewed.


“We haven’t ordered through the Internet; we’re still in paper
mode,” said John Russo, chief of information technology procurement at the
Immigration and Naturalization Service.


INS uses the sites of vendors such as Dell Computer Corp., GE Capital IT Solutions of
Stamford, Conn., and Pulsar Data Systems Inc. of Lanham, Md., to check GSA schedule
contract pricing and to inquire about discounts, he said. Russo regards all three sites as
easy to use.


Lennie Wade, a computer systems analyst at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., said he checked
prices online when he wanted to upgrade a 100-MHz Zenith Data Systems PC purchased through
Desktop V. Wade was looking for a 266-MHz CPU upgrade with 64M of RAM.


He went to http://www.pricewatch.com to find the lowest prices for name-brand products
and then bought a CPU, memory and motherboard for $700, he said.


“It sure saves a lot of time,” Wade said. “I can find a whole list of
sources,” Wade said.


“I can upgrade three systems for the cost of buying one 400-MHz Pentium II
PC,” he said.


Cecelia Czarnecki, a manager for Information Systems Technology and Advanced Concepts
at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, has used the GTSI Online site, run by
Government Technology Services Inc. of Chantilly, Va., for about a year.


Czarnecki said she usually goes to the site to check prices of products such as
printers from Hewlett-Packard Co. and Lexmark International Inc. of Lexington, Ky., or to
contact sales representatives.


“It’s a lot nicer than voice mail,” she said. Before she started using
the Web site, she used to call each vendor to get an oral quotation followed by a fax.


“Now it’s all online,” she said.


Not everyone uses the Web, however. “Since we haven’t established a firewall
yet, we’re not on the Internet,” said Matthew Duffy, a contract specialist with
the Customs Service in Indianapolis.


Web access was promised last year, but year 2000 readiness issues have eclipsed it and
other projects, Duffy said.


Patent and Trademark Office purchasers buy exclusively from their desktop contract with
Hughes Data Systems of Irvine, Calif., and do not check prices or configurations on Web
sites, said Kathryn Mihalich, director of PTO’s Web Services Division. 


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