Expect new rules when you sell to or link with government entities. The business law rules you've learned may not apply in those special segments of e-business called business to government (B2G) and government to business (G2B). Or those rules may be overridden in part by government-specific regulations. Here are some points that will help you in your business dealings with U.S. federal, state, and local governments:
Recession or no recession, the government is here to stay.
Despite the perennial belt-tightening in Congress and state legislatures, government spending on information technology at the federal, state, and local levels is growing rapidly. The Gartner Group predicts that government spending on the Internet will exceed $6.2 billion by 2005.
The days of the $600 hammer are over.
Can this benefit my company and me? Nowadays, taxpayers demand that governments do more with less. Improving efficiency in government means more automation, business process reengineering, enterprise-resource planning, self-service Web sites, and even customer relationship management. Savvy technology vendors can benefit from this trend toward smaller, leaner government. The Office of Management and Budget's Circular, A-130, www.whitehouse.gov/omb/circulars/a130/a130trans4.html is a good overview resource on the federal government's guiding principles for IR management.
There's always a catch.
Must I learn new procurement programs? Expect to encounter new functions, features, and possibly frustrations. Federal acquisition regulations, state and local competitive bidding requirements, best value purchasing requirements, catalog purchasing rules, and so on are new tools you should learn to use if you want to do business with the government. In addition to their many regulations and requirements, Governments can also be slow to pay, but they generally do pay their bills.
A level playing field.
The Freedom of Information Act and state open records or "sunshine" laws can help newcomers and small businesses compete effectively for government business. Useful information about local, state, and federal contracting opportunities is increasingly available on the Web. There are also numerous special opportunities for minority and female-owned businesses in most sectors (especially the executive branch) of state and federal governments.
Is your intellectual property safe if your customer is a government unit? Learn both the special rules for licensing software to federal agencies, and the particular scope of, and protections against, so-called sovereign immunity.
Pending laws that could impact electronic government and government procurement include the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). Both were approved for adoption by state legislatures in July 1999 by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. UETA would implement, at the state level, policies described in the federal Electronic Signatures in Global and Nation Commerce Act (E-SIGN) passed by Congress last year. E-SIGN and UETA are believed to be important to e-commerce because they remove a perceived impedimentnamely the requirement that certain transactions be made in writing and signed. UCITA is more controversial. Some believe it favors business interests over consumer interests. Privacy and security are also likely subjects of new legislation in Congress and at the state level.
Although electronic government procurement will continue to grow, there will be some bumps in the road. The recent bankruptcy of Govworks.com, a closely watched G2B start-up, reveals that the marriage of government and technology has moved past the honeymoon phase. Nevertheless, B2G successes could help pave the way to eventual success for B2C e-commerce plays, and both revenue and e-services for you. C.J. Brandt, Jr.