You know the drill. For years, if not decades, technology buffs touted the "paperless" office, or the "streamlined" business, free to pursue profits without all the nasty paperwork gumming up the works.

Some recent evidence, at least at the procurement level, suggests that e-procurement may actually be getting in the way of small business progress.

The National Association of Government Contractors, in a March 7 dispatch on its web site, reports that some Democrats are unhappy with the Bush administration's (I know - big surprise) efforts to ramp up government's use of e-procurement technologies.
The NAGC says that, at a House Small Business Committee hearing, Chairwoman Rep. Nydia Velázquez of New York warned that automated procurement systems, contract bundling and online auctions have created an uneven playing field in which large contractors are able to dominate the marketplace.

"Taken together, these new processes are creating roadblocks for small firms as they try to navigate the federal procurement system" Velázquez said. "If left unchanged, this could lead to a marketplace without the contributions of small businesses -- ingenuity and innovation. This will result in a less diverse supplier base -- leaving taxpayers paying more for less."

Some small business owners, testifying at the hearing, say that workers are ill-equipped to handle the reforms and changes needed to set up and maintain e-procurement operations. Bush administration officials dispute that sentiment, saying that more small businesses than ever are using e-procurement practices, and are saving tons of money in the process.

The facts seem to support that argument. In 2007, small businesses accounted for more than 76 percent of sales on GSA Advantage, an online shopping and ordering system, James Williams, commissioner of the General Services Administration's Federal Acquisition Service, told the NAGC. Small firms also represent about 95 percent of all business on GSA's e-Offer, which businesses use to submit online contract offers and keep track of them..

"E-systems allow for faster and easier processes, and can increase accessibility and transparency and minimize costs to small businesses wanting to sell to the government," Williams said.

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William Dorn

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