Defense Electronic Commerce Program Hits Stride

Defense Electronic Commerce Program Hits Stride

William Cohen

By Trish Williams, Editor

A wide-ranging effort to accelerate the use of electronic commerce throughout the Department of Defense and revolutionize the way the military does business is bearing fruit, top defense officials said.

Defense Secretary William Cohen told an "Electronic Business in Action" conference in Washington June 10 that the program's first major milestone ? to implement a paperless contracting system ? is on schedule for operation by next year.

Cohen, the architect of the Pentagon's Defense Reform Initiative, also hailed progress in the agency's efforts to integrate electronic commerce into its business cycle. The November 1997 reform initiative stemmed from a comprehensive report that found Defense Department business affairs were paper intensive, costly and slow.

Today, "we have an amazing electronic mall that has generated $27 million in sales to date," Cohen told participants at the second annual Defense Department Electronic Commerce Day. It was held at the International Trade Center in conjunction with the Association for Enterprise Integration and Electronic Commerce Resource Centers.

Cohen's reform initiative created the Joint Electronic Commerce Program Office (JECPO), which serves as the Defense Department's electronic commerce integrator. The Defense Logistics Agency and the Defense Information Systems Agency share leadership of the office, which is responsible for spurring paperwork reduction as well as economies and efficiencies in areas such as acquisition, finance, medical, logistics and transportation.

"We're well along our way of achieving paperless contracting by 2000, and we're well along the way to accelerating the use of electronic commerce ... to make shopping and buying a point-and-click activity," said Marvin Langston, the Pentagon's deputy chief information officer. Langston led a discussion on providing additional security to paperless operations using public key encryption and digital signature technology. He was joined by other leading agency officials, including Richard Guida, senior adviser to Treasury CIO James Flyzik and chairman of the Federal Public Key Infrastructure Steering Committee.

Federal agencies are using public key infrastructure (PKI) technology for an increasing number of applications throughout government, he said. Such technology is being eyed by government officials for the strong authentication needed to instill confidence in Internet transactions.

Among the agencies with PKI pilot programs under way are the departments of Treasury and Veterans Affairs, he said. they are pursuing secure messaging applications to meet financial, medical and other needs.

Agencies that are moving toward PKI production applications include the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and NASA, he said. The FAA uses PKI technology in conjunction with its aircraft inspection role of ensuring that the nation's domestic airline fleet meets safety standards, he said.

Cohen, who acknowledged that defense planners had to scope carefully the agency's far-reaching reforms, said the real architects of change are the agency personnel and industry officials with whom they partner.

"There is now a commitment to change the way we do business," Cohen told the gathering. And, he said, that commitment will be bolstered by the first major military spending increase in 15 years. According to Cohen, military spending is to increase $112 billion over the next six years. Members of Congress support increased military spending, and "we may get even more," he said.

The military will continue to consolidate, compete and close facilities to maximize taxpayer dollars, said Cohen. "We need to have the best technology to get us to where we need to be for the next century," he said.

Key defense programs contributing to the paperless progress cited by military officials include the following:

?Defense Business Opportunities: The DoD BusOpps Web site was enhanced in February to give users the capability to conduct searches using various criteria. Since the upgrade, the site has had 490,000 hits, according to the joint program office. To date, the Navy has had 100 sites connected; the Air Force, 150 sites; Army, 34 sites; and Defense Logistics Agency, three sites, according to a June 10 JEPCO statement.

?Central Contractor Registration: The Defense Department's single repository for contractors has developed into a robust, customer-focused database with a growing core population of about 152,000 vendors, according to the joint program office. A registration process that took one month in the past now takes less than 48 hours. The information warehouse "is rapidly becoming DoD's foundation for implementing streamlined acquisition and paperless contracting," the joint program office statement said.

?DoD E-Mall: Permission is nearing to rollout E-Mall to the services this summer and fall, according to the joint program office. E-Mall is the single electronic entry point via the Internet to find and acquire off-the-shelf items. E-Mall registrants increased from 635 to 728, while ordering sessions rose from 7,500 to 9,800, according to the joint program office. Sales jumped from $19.6 million in fiscal 1998 to $21.7 million in the first seven months of fiscal 1999.

?Electronic Document Access: This Web-based tool allows the entire agency to store and retrieve contract documents, vouchers and government bills, reducing the need to print, file, mail and manage paper. It is "fast becoming a departmentwide virtual file cabinet," according to the joint program office. EDA replaces the paper version of contract documents with an electronic version.

?Government-wide Commercial Purchase Card: Transactions using the commercial credit card issued to government employees for official purposes has increased 47 percent since fiscal 1997. Today, more than 160,000 civilian employees and uniformed members use the card, according to the joint program office. In the past, defense officials said, buying supplies and services valued under $2,500 was an inefficient process that could mean weeks or months before employees received their orders.

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