Meet The World's Klutziest Computer Buyer

Two years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency decided it needed a supercomputer--most likely one from Cray Research Inc.--to run complicated environmental models that could help refine clean-air standards. But makers of less powerful minisupercomputers, such as Convex Computer Corp. and Alliance Computer, convinced the EPA's congressional overseers that they, too, ought to have a shot at the contract. They relied on a 1984 statute, the Competition in Contracting Act, that puts even the tiniest computer supplier on equal footing with large makers in the $20 billion-a-year federal computer market. The law is supposed to help federal agencies get the best computers for the best price.

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