FACNET Faces Uphill Battle for Acceptance
By Robert Deller
The government's Federal Acquisition Network faces some serious challenges in becoming a useful tool for acquiring information technology products.
Some of the challenges are the result of market dynamics, others stem from the implementation of a procurement process that has always posed problems for agencies.
Problems often beget oversight. Frequent implementation delays in infotech program delivery, inadequate competition to ensure the lowest product prices and excessive administrative expenses contribute to multiple levels of procurement oversight.
Procedural oversight in the form of the Federal IRM Regulations and the GSA's Board of Contract Appeals was replaced in 1996 by provisions in the Clinger-Cohen Act. Legislative oversight created by the Paperwork Reduction Act, the Competition in Contracting Act and the now defunct Brooks Act, has been transformed by the management focus of the IT Management Reform Act.
But another significant change in the procurement process came when President Bill Clinton issued a memorandum in October 1993 requiring agencies to implement an electronic commerce process. FACNET, mandated by the 1994 Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act, provided the statutory framework to accomplish that objective.
Procurements ranging from $2,500 to $100,000, where no existing contract is in place, were initial targets for FACNET implementation.
The results for agencies actively using FACNET have generally been favorable. The costs of conducting business between government and vendor have dropped as have the prices of products.
The body of recent legislation focused on commercial, off-the-shelf product acquisition.
The goals of the FACNET computer-to-computer implementation through robust electronic document interchange standards were to automate solicitation for commercial, off-the-shelf products, provide for responsive industry quotes and establish an accounting framework for this segment of electronic commerce.
The General Accounting Office recently gave FACNET a mixed review. In a study, GAO cites several difficulties perceived by agencies in doing business on FACNET.
FACNET is not moribund, but it needs resuscitation. Many agencies appear to lack confidence in the process.
What's next? Indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity, multiple-award schedule and governmentwide acquisition contracts may become the next target of computer-to-computer acquisition reform. FACNET may not survive to be the reform mechanism to lead these contract vehicles into electronic commerce. The reforms of electronic bulletin boards and electronic ordering catalogs are inadequate to address the scopes of large contracts. The Internet could become the de facto vehicle for electronic commerce transactions, satisfying many infrastructure and access problems. Large and small solicitations are already announced through the Internet. With added security and accountability features, resistance to an electronic commerce process is reduced. These enabling features will come from industry.
Robert Deller is an industry analyst with Global Systems & Strategies Inc., Vienna, Va. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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