U.S. Moves to Online Procurement

The U.S. government has stepped up its efforts to find new ways to utilize e-commerce solutions to purchase goods and services for its agencies and offices around the globe.

In 1993, the National Performance Review identified problems with the existing federal procurement systems. As a result, the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) was passed in 1994, mandating that the government implement e-commerce technologies to streamline the procurement process.

Since the passage of FASA, an increasing number of branches of the government have implemented e-commerce technologies.

Government Buyers Click and Spend

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), a federal agency which enables all agencies of the U.S. government to order goods and services through blanket purchase agreements, has experienced record years in which agency offices large and small are ordering goods and services online through contracts and purchase agreements that GSA has set up.

Through its Web site, buyers from such federal agencies as the CIA, FBI, DOD and NASA can search for a negotiated contract in place with the GSA and often link right into the vendor’s Web site. In essence, the GSA has created a portal for any government buyer to find what he or she is looking for through a pre-negotiated purchase agreement.

One example is the GSA’s Federal Technology Service (FTS), which acts to fill government purchasing needs for software, hardware and wireless technology. The FTS claims it has expanded the volume spent on its contracts from $3.4 billion (US$) in FY 1998 to $4.2 billion in FY 1999, in part by operating an online mall that allows agencies to procure products via e-commerce.

Government Traveler Dot-Com

Travel-related services are also an area where e-commerce is being used by the government. Recently, GSA partnered with AllMeetings.com to create a special Web site as part of the GSA’s Conference/Meeting Planner Course curriculum. The course, which starts in April, is designed to help administrative assistants and secretaries who do not plan meetings full-time to learn to plan cost-effective, high-quality meetings.

The GSA claims that AllMeetings.com saves federal employees a tremendous amount of time, letting them plan meetings online in hours instead of the traditional time-consuming method of wading through a plethora of Internet sites and facilities brochures, exchanging correspondence, and manually drawing up budgets over the course of days or weeks.

AllMeetings.com claims to offer a proprietary commercial search engine that gives users instant, individualized meeting proposals culled from a custom information bank of thousands of hotels in more than 250 cities — all at no charge to the meeting planner.

Private Entities See Potential

Private entities are also setting up e-commerce portals that are targeted specifically at government buyers. Privately-owned FedCenter.com, for example, is designed to serve government buyers by providing online catalogs from companies that have purchasing contracts with the federal government.

Catalogs exist for computer/IT products, industrial supplies, office products, paging/cellular phones, professional/technical books, life sciences/healthcare/laboratory, and military/security/law enforcement.

Federal buyers can use these catalogs to buy products by submitting federally-approved purchase orders. They can also use the system to create RFQs that can be sent to multiple suppliers for bids.

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