Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.
Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.
OCR for page 16
--> The Electronic Commerce Experience in the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Commander Ron Grover Naval Facilities Engineering Command The Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) performs many services for the Navy, including contracts for construction, environmental services, and public works services. When I arrived at NAVFAC almost a year ago, my first job was to see that electronic commerce (EC) was implemented at all our contracting offices within one year. Today, I will relate some of the barriers we faced in implementing electronic commerce, in the hope that this experience is useful to others. I will also describe some new initiatives underway. Barriers to Implementation The first barrier to implementation was the standard procurement system (SPS). The goal of the SPS is to standardize all the contract business practices throughout the Department of Defense (DOD). All DOD agencies are to use the same procurement software, which is now in development. We were directed to avoid reinventing the wheel—we were not to buy, develop, or expand our automation systems or the contracting process. At the time this freeze on buying and development occurred, many of our offices were not adequately automated. However, it is impossible to implement EC when an office is not automated. The SPS is now at the proposal review stage, and another amendment requiring the contractors to change and resubmit their proposals will be sent out soon. If this amendment has a fast turnaround, the best result is likely to be a ''flyoff'' award in August or September 1996. In such a flyoff, the software of two competing contractors will be tested at several locations, and then just one will finally be selected. The chosen software will then be installed at all DOD contracting offices, over a five-year period. Again, over the roughly seven-year process, we are not to buy, expand, or develop any software. Since most of our offices did not have any procurement software, this freeze forestalled our EC implementation.
OCR for page 17
--> A second barrier to implementation was a Navy-initiated moratorium on any new certifications for the federal acquisition computer network, known as FACNET. Only one of NAVFAC's sites had achieved interim certification before the moratorium was enacted at the end of August 1995. Four other sites did buy and demonstrate automation capabilities. They are ready to operate as soon as the Navy moratorium is lifted. The Navy established the moratorium because some problems were observed in this electronic commerce infrastructure that the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) was establishing. In particular, information was lost in the system; for example, some solicitations did not reach potential trading partners. NAVFAC itself has not experienced many problems with its one FACNET site, but some of our Navy counterparts want DISA to continue to improve, and they wanted to send a message to higher levels indicating that. Another problem with FACNET brings to mind one of the Dilbert cartoon strips. In it, Dilbert defines "total quality management" as "a complex process whereby you transfer your funds to consultants." Agencies and contractors are really fearful about the ultimate costs of FACNET. Many feel they will simply be transferring their money to value-added networks (VANs) or DISA. Currently, there is no charge to government agencies for the FACNET infrastructure, but they are concerned that DISA will have to recoup its costs in the future through fees. Many agencies are therefore reluctant to commit themselves to FACNET. Moreover, since few agencies or contracting activities are now using FACNET, contractors obtain little benefit by paying a VAN to use the FACNET. Overcoming Barriers to Implementation To proceed with implementation of electronic commerce, the first step was obtaining a waiver from the SPS. The waiver was approved because we were able to provide an economic analysis which showed that all of the costs of a particular software would be recouped well before the SPS arrives. We evaluated relevant off-the-shelf software and found that, while no one software package would be perfect for a government agency, some of the available software is adequate for the job. Another major step was ensuring that all the needed interfaces would be established among our NAVFAC automation systems, such as our financial system. It is not easy to get our different commands and departments to agree on how they will communicate, or to establish standard business practices. Yet this is one of the critical considerations in identifying an automation system: making sure it will work with the different processes involved.
OCR for page 18
--> NAVFAC Initiatives Currently, NAVFAC is installing some of the chosen off-the-shelf software at a few sites. First, this effort will automate our contract processes, improving the quality of our products and increasing our productivity. Second, it will enable us to implement EC when the FACNET moratorium is lifted. We are also helping the Navy design an Internet site, as an alternative approach to advertising contract jobs. The Navy is developing a home page where contract jobs will be listed, along with brief descriptions. Hyperlinks will allow readers to click on the name of a job to get a complete job synopsis. The site will also have built-in search features. DOD is linking all its acquisition home pages into one system, the Acquisition Reform Net. Once developed, it will be accessible via search functions. Our NAVFAC contract home page should be ready by November 1996. Another DOD success in electronic commerce also illustrates the incredible potential of computers. The labor specialists in the military services convinced the Department of Labor (DOL) to provide current wage determinations via the Internet. The Service Contract Act and Davis-Bacon Act require every service and construction contract to have a DOL wage determination. These wage determinations establish the minimum wage a contractor can pay in every county of the United States, for every type of work, such as carpenter, electrician, and janitor. Previously, all wage determination requests had to be mailed into DOL. DOL would then process them and send the paperwork back, which generally took one to three months. Now DOL maintains a database that can be accessed via the Internet on wages for all areas and types of work. The Army is developing a home page with search features that accesses this database. Any military organization will be able to go through this Army home page and immediately download the needed wage determination for their area and by type of service. This system has not been fully implemented. Some personnel training and refining of the home pages are still required. Once in operation, it will be a tremendous boost to the government contracting business. Essentially, a contracting officer will be able to get a wage determination in ten minutes or less using the Internet, as opposed to the current one to three months. There are other possibilities for using the Internet for acquisition that we are just beginning to explore. Recently someone suggested that the Internet might be used to give notice of likely future work that is not yet advertised.
OCR for page 19
--> Obviously, such notice would be of great help to the contracting community in its planning, although there are still legal issues and other factors to consider. NAVFAC is also working with the Army Corps of Engineers on the electronic bid set project. Two of the first three contracts to be advertised on an Army home page will be NAVFAC projects. A contractor will be able to download all or part of the plans and specifications for these solicitations via the Internet, instead of ordering a set of specifications through the mail.
OCR for page 20
--> Electronic Commerce at the General Services Administration G. Doyle Dodge General Services Administration In the electronic commerce (EC) program at the General Services Administration (GSA), we continually look across and coordinate with the major federal agencies, including interagency activities, seeking a consensus for processing and disseminating all the information needed for electronic commerce initiatives. In federal procurement activities, a great deal of information must be made available as easily and inexpensively as possible to about 500,000 people in government and industry all over the world. Designing an EC system and network for the paperless procurement of federal goods and services is a considerable challenge. We designed the entire concept first, then established interagency groups and started developing and implementing modules in manageable units. Two and one-half years ago, the interagency Federal Electronic Commerce Acquisition Program Management Office was formed. They began working on the optimal architecture and implementation conventions to route the relevant information among the people who use it, from the federal agencies to private sector vendors and back. They created FACNET, and decided to use electronic data interchange (EDI) transaction sets to disseminate information between dissimilar computer systems. During this same time, the Internet became commercialized, making its use easily and widely available. Also arriving on the scene was important, interoperable new technology software, allowing computer operating system independence for Macintosh computers, personal computers, and UNIX computers, and independent of any specific application software. In other words, when using this new software, the authors and the users of information can be on either the same or different types of computers, as in Macintosh to Macintosh, personal computer to Macintosh, and UNIX to personal computer exchanges, using either the same or different application software. After authoring the desired text and graphics in a computer, the information can be transmitted electronically, with or without EDI transaction sets, and the user can see, store, and print the text and graphics information exactly as it was authored.
OCR for page 21
--> This capability is significant for those using text, forms, and graphics, and in the architect-engineering, construction, and other industries. All the architectural drawings, floor plans, and other information produced on computers today can be simply and easily processed by the author through this new technology software. The processed information can then be disseminated electronically on CD-ROM, floppy disks, e-mail, or the Internet. Users at the receiving end, applying the free reader software supplied by the software manufacturer, can see, store, and print the information as an exact copy. With these new technologies and advanced telecommunications methods, and making use of the talent we have in many different agencies, we are able to put together a better program for faster, less expensive, and more accurate federal procurement using a paperless method. In today's world of diminished budgets, interagency cooperation is easier to establish. Many agencies are providing working group help from the users and the technicians. How do the users want to see and use the information? How do the contractors want to see and use it? The lawyers? And so forth. The technical support staff from the participating agencies listen to the opinions, consider the options, and reach a consensus on how one system should operate across the government, to present a "single face" to the users. GSA brings that consensus into being by coordinating interagency activities. GSA and the other major procuring agencies have many conceptual, user understanding, technical, and computer equipment resources and operating methods that all agencies and vendors need and can share. We believe that these resources and methods will find their way through the marketplace to the users in the best manner. The information can be provided either directly through the Internet and CD-ROM disk, or by downloading the information from the Internet, putting it into EDI transaction sets, and sending it via FACNET. There is a place for both Internet and FACNET approaches in providing the information to the users. We happen to feel that the Internet transmission is much simpler, easier to use, and less expensive, but the marketplace should be allowed to determine what approach to use. Federal contracting officers will decide which approach they want to use and private sector contractors will also. Between these two users, the decision should become apparent over a short period of time, and the parties will soon migrate to it. Fortunately, it is not necessary to develop standards for this program. When a users' consensus is reached, it does not take us long to get it designed, developed, and put in place. When using consensus rather than standards, we are able to work with each other and move quickly to reach the goal of how to provide the information.
OCR for page 22
--> A number of the government's procurement documents—policies, regulations, procurement letters, and so forth—are now on the Internet, and the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) are on CD-ROM as well. Internet documents include the FAR, FTR, the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS), the Air Force Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (AFFARS), the NASA FAR Supplement, and the Department of Energy Acquisition Regulation (DEAR). Major federal procurement agencies are striving to use the Internet to provide notices of business opportunities, including forecasts of requirements, synopses, solicitations, and contract awards for subcontracting activities. NASA's approach of using the Internet for displaying business opportunities is being followed by other agencies, and there is some consensus that NASA's approach works well. Wage determinations and the debarred bidders list are very widely used by federal contracting officers and by prime contractors. GSA wants to be sure that this information can be easily accessed through a single face approach, with a similar format used by all government agencies, one that does not require formatting or translation changes after transmission. Users rely on a variety of application software programs, such as WordPerfect 5.1 and 6. 1, Microsoft Word in various versions, Quark Xpress, and Pagemaker. Some users need to send graphics, tables, or forms electronically. All this information needs to reach its destination efficiently, accurately, and in a readable format. The Interagency Shared Databases Steering Committee agreed to leave the regulation formats "as authored," and if the FAR Council wants to change the format later, that will be their responsibility. The regulations will be available in just two formats: in Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML), which is an ASCII format; and in Acrobat PDF (Portable Document Format), which is exactly as authored, and independent of the operating system and application software. This PDF format is exceptionally good for those who want to transmit graphics or forms electronically, and want to view, store, and print them on varying computer platforms. GSA's main goal is to have all the required federal procurement information accessible on the Internet and CD-ROM, so that it can be obtained quickly and accurately. It is easy to take the original material, process it through HTML and PDF software programs, and distribute the resulting files electronically. The program concept and plan have been initiated in parts at several agencies, but implementation is far from complete. The FAR, archived back to FAR 90–34, is available on the Internet at http://www.gsa.gov/far/, in both HTML and Acrobat PDF formats, and the FAR forms are being placed on the Internet as quickly as possible in PDF.
OCR for page 23
--> Each agency will migrate to handling their FAR Supplements the same way as the FAR and load them on the server of their choice. An agency can use its own server, or GSA could probably handle it at a cost much lower than the agency purchasing a server and software, and hiring a Web master. Currently, there are hyperlinks from the FAR World Wide Web site to many other Web sites, including the NASA FAR Supplement, the DFARS, AFFARS, DEAR, and others. More hyperlinks will be added as soon as additional federal procurement information is loaded. These developments and trends in electronic commerce will yield tremendous benefits for both public and private sectors. Information should be distributed more accurately and expeditiously. Some users receive FAR changes in the printed version up to four months after the changes are published in the Federal Register. With the Internet, FAR changes could be available within a few days after publication. Moreover, users will not have to reach for different documents and manuals, both old and new, to find the information they need—it will all be available electronically. All government agencies should be able to present a "single face" format to all users, and users, conversely, should be able to access all the agencies' information they need from the Internet and CD-ROM. Value-added networks (VANs) will have access to this information, and their customers' jobs will be that much easier and less expensive. For these and many more reasons, the system should improve the return on investment for everyone. One of the most important parts of implementing EC is involvement of the system users. This approach incorporates good feedback mechanisms and can be modified as needed through user experience. GSA and other agencies work with the private sector, and particularly with the VANs and the training people, to answer their questions and to meet their needs by system refinement. As I mentioned before, GSA works by consensus. We try not to set standards, nor to initiate long-term projects, or involve dozens of people in decision making because it slows the process. Instead, we identify the 6 to 10 people from various agencies who are most knowledgeable about an issue and seek their advice and input. Then we all work together to make it happen. The agencies have shown increasing willingness to share their information, and their solutions. For example, the software package that GSA chose to convert WordPerfect 6.1 to HTML resulted in the Environmental Protection Agency being able to eliminate a lot of time and contractor expense on conversion. The design and development of loading procurement synopses on the Internet, by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Institutes of Health, and other agencies, are refining this important part of federal procurement. This cooperative approach helps greatly.
OCR for page 24
--> One of our goals is to eliminate the paper documents sent out. The sooner the agencies and vendors start retrieving all their information electronically, the sooner we will be able to stop printing. Everyone will benefit in this regard from EC. Another high priority is developing a good search engine on the FAR server, one that will index the FAR and all databases on other servers with related information. For example, a phrase could be sought in the FAR, in the NASA FAR Supplements, and in the DEAR, all at the same time. Today's search engines are sophisticated, listing instances where a phrase occurs and where related material is as well (even where the selected phrase does not appear). Any listed instance can then be immediately accessed as desired in the full document. In summary, I want to state again that the GSA goal of providing all the information required for complete electronic federal contracting has been accepted by the major procurement agencies, and the initial functions are now provided through the Internet. The broader implementation, refinement, improvement, and addition of related modules can be put in place over the next several months and the remaining agencies can climb on board for complete paperless contracting. This concept encompasses the following tasks: Author the formats of the information packages. Convert each authored document into HTML (for ASCII) and into Acrobat PDF (for as authored) formats. Convert all graphics, engineering drawings, forms, tables, and so forth to Acrobat PDF for electronic transmission. Load the HTML and Acrobat PDF files onto an Internet server. Develop hyperlink pointers between each major federal procurement document or file on all the agencies' Internet servers. Establish interagency steering committees, made up of six to ten of the major procurement agencies, to establish a consensus direction on each topic and to provide a member to each users' working group and technical working group. Provide the federal procurement information directly via the Internet, or download it for use via EDI transmission over FACNET. Transmit the information each quarter (or some other established time frame) to the Government Printing Office to be placed on CD-ROM disks. Make the federal procurement information available, as described above, for the 500,000 people in the public and private sectors.
OCR for page 25
--> Eliminate the printing and disseminating of paper copies of all federal procurement information as soon as reasonably possible. Implement a powerful search engine on the FAR server that will index each operative word in each file of federal procurement information on the dispersed servers throughout the government. With this capability, users will be able to find the location of similar information wherever it is. Make available the business opportunities, including forecasts, synopses, and solicitations of government requirements, and the award of government contracts for subcontracting opportunities.
OCR for page 26
--> U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Federal Electronic Commerce Program and Electronic Bid Set Test Project Dan Troyan, Justin Taylor, and Ronson Kung U.S. Army Corps of Engineers The Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) of 1994, with the electronic commerce it specifies—including the Federal Acquisition Computer Network (FACNET)—brings changes and new advantages to the acquisition process, in particular for the area of interest here today, engineering and construction contracting. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is pursuing several new options in contracting. Of the Corps' 50 automated contracting offices, 90 percent (45) now have interim FACNET certification, giving them a small-purchase threshold of $100,000. This is significant because 90 percent of all annual Corps' purchase transactions are for less than $100,000, and the electronic commerce method can readily accomplish these acquisitions. The $100,000 ceiling, however, does not lend itself specifically to engineering and construction contracts, which usually start at about $300,000 and go up. The Corps of Engineers is considering how to fit in small engineering and construction procurements, when such acquisitions can provide an advantage to project management, and enhance customer service and support. Prospects for this kind of electronic commerce include quick procurement of last-minute low-cost items needed for a construction project or for building maintenance and repairs. In the world of engineering and construction services today, if you fail to deliver within budget and on time, you are not doing a good job. Besides saving time and money directly, electronic commerce also eliminates the business of stockpiling and ordering for future work needs. Electronic commerce makes it possible to order something that you might need, but that you did not anticipate in the original project management plan, and still receive it just-in-time. Electronic commerce thus provides an even greater edge in delivering within budget and on time—or ahead of time. Currently, in the early and developmental phase of FACNET use, it is difficult to communicate on that network. Consequently, better electronic success can be realized if only basic requests for quotes and award traffic is
OCR for page 27
--> exchanged. Off-line from FACNET, between the time of the buyer's request and making the award to the vendor, related information and specifications may be exchanged for the transaction using facsimile or CD-ROM. This hybrid electronic commerce process saves time, money, and effort. In addition to adopting the Federal and Department of Defense Electronic Commerce Program with its FACNET System, the Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a test project of electronic bid sets over the Internet for advertising of construction contracts. It is expected that, eventually, this Corps project will lead to a totally paperless engineering and construction design process. In the meantime, the electronic bid set process itself shows great promise for electronic advertising by by saving costs, time, and other resources over current paper methods, and should greatly boost productivity and efficiency. By taking advantage of today's technology, including use of CD-ROM, the cost of printing contract documents can be borne by the location creating the demand—whether the designer, reviewer, contracting office, contractor, or supplier. The Electronic Bid Set Project Originally, several Army Corps of Engineers groups began their own initiatives in providing electronic bid packages, that is, in putting their documents for construction contracts into an electronic medium to deliver to the contractor. In delivering specifications and contract forms and clauses through an electronic medium, these Corps groups substantially cut their printing and mailing costs. The Corps' Chief of Engineers endorsed those initiatives, and charged headquarters staff with developing a Corps-wide approach for consistency of the electronic bid packages. While the Corps encompasses an extensive network of 40 or so districts, and handles all types of information and initiatives, it did not want 40 different ways of doing business to confront the contractor. The headquarters office of the Army Corps of Engineers was charged with finding a way to do it corporately and smartly. At the same time, the Tri-Service CADD/GIS Technology Center was working on a prototype to deliver contract documents or engineering documents to the contractor. The Tri-Service CADD/GIS Technology Center is a laboratory that supports joint Army-Navy-Air Force work on computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) and geographic information systems (GIS) initiatives. The center is located in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Initially in our Corps-wide project, we involved all the interested parties in a working group. The working group met in Mobile, Alabama, early in 1995
OCR for page 28
--> and identified the members of this committee, representing a number of Corps program areas: Military Programs Directorate; Information Management Directorate; Laboratory at Waterways Experiment Station; Civil Works; and Military Programs Construction. The Corps districts involved are Fort Worth, Mobile, Omaha, and Sacramento. Also included, because of the Tri-Service effort, are Air Force and Navy representatives. One of the working group's first steps was to define an electronic bid set. The complete development of electronic commerce was not our task. Rather, it was to come up with a deliverable to a contractor to reduce Corps effort. We therefore defined an electronic bid set as the contract forms, the clauses and conditions of that contract, and related drawings and technical specifications. Originally, then, the project goal was simply to convert these contract bid documents from print media to an electronic format. There are a number of good reasons to make this conversion. Technology and electronic imaging can be more fully exploited, because these documents are electronically prepared right now. CADD programs are already used to create drawings, and word-processing and other text applications are used to prepare the manuscript. Currently, however, these electronic documents—for solicitations, bids, and construction contracts—are converted to print for delivery to the contractor. This final time-consuming step could be eliminated. Construction and contracting projects would be more efficient, providing more lead time, for example, so that better products could be obtained at lower price, and mitigating bid and contractual protests because the information delivered would be identical to the information we have. This helps to assure a fair and competitive environment. Additionally, the use of electronic data could be optimized through the project's life cycle. Once data were captured electronically for the solicitation process, they could be readily transferred to other documents. One electronic file could be used to retain both pre-award and post-award data. These capabilities would make the old manual filing systems unnecessary. If one central location were used to index all the documentation for a project, storage and archiving could be reduced as well. This approach is compliant with our mandated electronic commerce initiative. For implementation of the electronic bid sets, we identified five pilot sites. We specified the use of commercial, off-the-shelf, conversion/reader software, so that a contractor can easily view the Corps documents, prepare solicitations, and send that information back. Our objective was to develop a system that was simple and user friendly. The first project, advertised on April 29, 1996, will involve the Fort Worth and Los Angeles Corps districts, in the construction of a dormitory at Edwards
OCR for page 29
--> Air Force Base. The Fort Worth district is responsible for life-cycle management, design, and official solicitation for the project. The Los Angeles district is covering the bid opening, award, and contract administration. Bids will be open on May 29. In our current process, solicitations are announced through the Commerce Business Daily (CBD). We will continue to use this approach, but will also make use of our electronic network. All Corps districts are now electronically connected to one another internally and to the Internet. They can publish Web pages and be accessed through the Internet. For this reason, we also have an announcement on the Internet (the same solicitation seen in the CBD). Previously, a contractor would visit or phone to request plans and specifications. This can still be done, but using the Internet, the contractor can now request the plans and specifications without leaving home. We will also distribute plans and specifications on CD-ROM. The electronic bid sets permit transferring many electronic file formats to a common one. We chose Adobe PDF for the text engine, and we are using Computer Aided Logistic System (CALS) format, which is a Department of Defense standard for the raster images of drawings. The CD-ROM distributed in our first project will contain the entire project—all the plans, specifications, and contract documents, including 250 drawings. Instead of costing $16 per set to mail, it will cost 85 percents, which is a huge savings in mailing costs alone. The technology yields a 75 percent savings in project printing and advertising costs. The procurement process will not be changed from the current approach. Bids will be submitted in paper form. Bid openings and awards will be made as before. However, we are looking at the engineering aspects of electronic commerce for these functions as well. The estimated price range for the first joint project is $10 to $25 million. We chose a large project, because a survey of contractors and contracting agents in the western area found that 80 to 90 percent of them could utilize CD-ROM technology. We will evaluate the pilot projects against success factors. Procedures will be modified as required and results will be analyzed to provide guidance and education so that subsequent projects reflect what we have learned. The Tri-Service CADD/GIS Center will provide technical assistance, monitor pilot projects, and make recommendations about the process and standards. The results of the process will provide implementation guidance for all the Corps districts in implementing electronic bid sets. We will start with a single project in every district, probably beginning next year. As districts progress, they will take on additional projects.
OCR for page 30
--> Electronic Commerce at NASA: Procurement on the Internet Ken Stepka National Aeronautics and Space Administration The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is using the Internet for procurement of a wide variety of goods and services, including architect/engineer and construction contracts. I will describe the NASA Acquisition Internet Service, also known as NAIS (http://procurement.nasa.gov/ ) and the Federal Acquisition Jumpstation (http://procure.msfc.nasa.gov/fedproc/home.html). NASA is changing dramatically in the way we do business. The NASA budget for fiscal year 1997 is roughly $13 billion; approximately 90 percent of that budget is spent as procurement dollars. While NASA will likely face challenging budgets over the next several years, substantial portions of these budgets will still be spent for procurement of goods and services. Our Internet service allows us to publicize business opportunities to a broad vendor audience efficiently and economically. One of NASA's challenges is encouraging our centers to communicate as a single face to industry. This single face concept is a keystone of the federal electronic commerce (EC) initiative, and includes primary elements: Single means of supplier registration Standard transaction formats A network for delivering standardized transactions Standard government databases allowing agencies to share information. Together, these elements allow vendors and agencies to conduct business in a uniform, cost-effective manner. I should mention that NASA is not currently promoting an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) presence. EDI and other EC technologies are being looked at under an agencywide business process re-engineering initiative. Although the single face concept can certainly simplify and standardize the process of conducting business with the federal government, the FACNET approach is challenging to agencies and businesses. FACNET is not inexpensive to use. Some of those costs are financial; others take the form of sweat equity, in
OCR for page 31
--> terms of specialized training, hardware/software configuration challenges, value-added networks, and building new business relationships based on these new business standards. Some FACNET features require quite a bit of training to operate effectively. At NASA, we are concerned about the customers at both ends of our business transaction. In the President's memorandum on electronic commerce, (58 Federal Register 58095, October 28, 1993), a significant goal is to expand the opportunities for businesses, especially small businesses. For a small business to use FACNET and become proficient, it has to make an investment of time, resources, and money. If there is not enough payback from that investment, the businesses are not going to pursue FACNET until the business case to participate becomes more favorable. That may explain why the initial surge of participation and transactions has not materialized. It may over time. Since the federal government's electronic commerce initiative began in the fall of 1993, much has changed in computer technology and capabilities. In the fall of 1993, Netscape did not exist. Today, Netscape is competing head to head with Microsoft for Internet browser supremacy. The Internet was available, but browser technology and the enhanced plug-in applications on today's browsers were on the drawing board somewhere—certainly not available for routine, productive use. We see electronic commerce as a tool set. There is such a range of procurement types, from micro to small purchases, to major procurements, that no one tool today can handle them all. For example, some procurement initiatives, such as on-line catalogs, are satisfying the same transactions that EDI goes after. Many of the procurements that appeared very suitable for EDI transactions three years ago can now be carried out with significantly less effort by using IMPAC cards, the government's credit card equivalent—the buyer simply calls up suppliers, such as CompUSA or Staples, and places an order; and it is delivered the next day, with the delivery scanned in at the customer's desktop by the delivery service, such as United Parcel Service or Federal Express. Little training is required to use the IMPAC card. These quick success initiatives have become very popular with federal agencies. If we continue to promote one system for all types of procurements, we will lose valuable time and endanger our credibility with our vendor community. Our job as procurement officers is to complete the procurements for the user. We are going to use the tool that works best at the time. We do not want to invest all resources into one tool or electronic commerce system.
OCR for page 32
--> NASA Acquisition Internet Service (NAIS) NASA delivers acquisition documents over the Internet to slash lead times and paperwork, and to save money. NASA's Internet service, NAIS, provides immediate access to all NASA synopses and competitive acquisitions over $25,000. NASA is the first federal agency to use this type of procurement system agencywide. Although NASA has 10 centers, most small companies probably do business in a certain geographical area. In the past, a business on the West Coast would probably focus on the Dryden Flight Research Center or the Ames Research Center. NAIS now allows a business to access any NASA procurements from a desktop computer. Why a World Wide Web service? Because it is a commercial marketplace. Internet technology is exploding, including the tools to use the Internet. The tools that have emerged in the last few years are what has brought the Internet to the forefront. The browsers were first, and now there are the plug-ins that work with the browsers. These tools make the Internet more functional and accessible. Often when people think of NASA, they think of leading edge technologies. We are not inventing Internet tools at NASA, but rather using commercial Internet standards, such as HTML, to develop our procurement processes. In the NASA Office of Procurement, our strategy is, ''Follow industry's lead—two steps behind.'' We want to try technologies, but we do not want to buy into technologies that will change overnight, or perhaps six months from now. There is no incentive for us to be the first to use a new technology. We listen to customer and user feedback on both sides of the procurement transaction. Our service provides customer feedback forms, where vendors can suggest what they like and don't like—and they respond. We test what is available, and let the market lead us. As the market determines the best technology or best standard, then we move in that direction. One of the more important features of our approach is that it is platform-independent—can work within any computer environment, such as Windows-based personal computers or Apple Macintosh computers. Customers and NASA users are often parochial about their computer hardware. Moving to a single platform within NASA is not realistic. The fact that World Wide Web Internet access is independent of computer hardware at our end, and also independent for the user at the other end of the business transaction, is beneficial as these new technologies emerge in the business environment. Our approach also allows a business to access information on NASA procurements from anywhere in the world, from home or office. If you want to
OCR for page 33
--> know the latest NASA procurement information, you can log-on through an Internet provider, or through any commercial on-line provider, such as America On-Line or Prodigy. Our strategy also minimizes entry barriers for small businesses. I previously mentioned the investment in training, the investment in software, and the investment in value-added networks that are all needed to use an EDI-based system. If a business has high-volume transactions, then an EDI-based system has a place. However, in the architect-engineer and construction businesses, how many procurements are available in a given year for all government? Not hundreds and thousands, but handfuls. So a highly automated environment may not be needed to access the required procurement information. Benefits of NAIS NASA is significantly reducing procurement lead times and saving money. In the past, publishing a solicitation—with all the reproduction and assembly and mailing—cost about $15 per package. After mailing 400 copies of the solicitations, NASA might only receive three or four responses. Today, if a vendor wants to search NASA synopses, he can point to the search button, which leads to a synopsis search page. By scrolling down, the vendor can choose the NASA centers for which a search is desired. After choosing a specific NASA center to search, the vendor can go to a classification code, which mirrors the codes in the Commerce Business Daily. These include architect and engineering services. The file can be searched by date. A vendor can also add key words for the search. In a few moments, depending on modem speed, the results appear. The search engine is based on shareware. The search results appear as an abstract of hot links to information on the procurements of interest at the specific center identified. Since the links are hot, a vendor can select an item of interest and pull up the synopsis. If it piques her interest, any available solicitation documents can simply be downloaded to a computer's hard drive. Another nice feature is that, for the user's response to the solicitation, these documents can be cut and pasted because they are word-processed documents. If the vendor's e-mail application is associated with his browser, and the synopsis sparks his interest, he can e-mail the contracting officer with any questions directly via the synopsis. Within a day or so, a response should appear. If a vendor is on a deadline to respond to a bid, it certainly helps to get the right information. And there is an electronic record as well. The solicitation documents, when issued, can be found by simply scrolling down the synopsis.
OCR for page 34
--> Other agencies are looking at NAIS as a business model. Eventually, the interaction of agencies providing this information on the Internet should lead to a search capability that covers not just NASA procurements, but all procurements of a given type across the agencies. By whatever means greater competition comes about, it means better products and services and lower prices for government. What to watch for in the coming months? This arena changes so quickly that we no longer talk in terms of years. NASA has an on-line feedback form that allows users to key in their opinions about the system. We are using these opinions as a key to system improvements. NASA will soon roll out automatic e-mail notification, which offers great potential. This capability is now working in pilot form, and we hope to have it fully operational during fiscal year 1997. By filling out an on-line form with an e-mail address, a user will be able to identify the procurements and NASA centers for which more information is desired. The service then sends an e-mail notification when those procurements are posted on the Internet. Thus, a business will not have to come to NASA, NASA will go to the business with procurement opportunities. Once again, our goal is to lower the entry barrier and associated costs for reaching and responding to our procurements. For proposals, NAIS currently requires a business to send back a paper document. We are working on an electronic proposal pilot that should be available in the near future when the interest and technology permits. NASA will establish a secured server so that we can ensure the security of proposals when they are submitted. At the present time, NAIS does not qualify for FACNET certification. We are working with the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and with Congress to expand the definition of what types of electronic commerce qualify for FACNET certification. In searching for architect and engineering construction contracts, NASA has a page that anyone can access from a desktop personal computer via the Internet (http://procurement.nasa.gov). This page is a link to all of NASA's business opportunities by field installation. These new NASA electronic commerce capabilities were developed without a specific budget, often by staff in their spare time. The staff saw the need and the opportunities presented by the tools available. A tribute is owed to those in the trenches who worked together to develop the system, standardize it agencywide, and make it available to the business community.
OCR for page 35
--> The Federal Acquisition Jumpstation The Federal Acquisition Jumpstation, an Internet site (http://procure.msfc.nasa.gov/fedproc/home.html ), provides hot links to all federal procurement information on the Internet. From this site, a vendor can link to departments and agencies throughout government, to retrieve acquisition forecasts, announcements, solicitations, how to guides, small business assistance information, and federal acquisition regulations. NASA maintains this site, and it has grown rapidly. The Jumpstation is updated frequently. This is an Internet address that a vendor would certainly want to bookmark and check frequently. Through the Jumpstation, all the agencies listed can be accessed, including the NASA centers. For example, if you access the Air Force through the Jumpstation, you will find that their business opportunities search capabilities closely resemble NASA's. One of our goals in working with other agencies is to link these opportunities closely so that when the user searches for architect and engineering or construction contracts, for example, the search can be carried out across the participating agencies. Several interagency working groups are active in development, and we are always looking for more participants with new ideas. From the Jumpstation, the user can also access and, in some cases, search the FAR and applicable agency supplements. The Jumpstation also links to commercial resources providing information similar to NASA's. Enter those sites at your own risk. Some are very good actually, and most are still free, so if you have the access, go ahead and take a look at them. Please access NASA's sites often. If there are ways to improve them, please let us know.
Representative terms from entire chapter: