GSA plans pilot on e-commerce platform by end of 2019

A recent request for information details some of how the General Services Administration's e-commerce platform will work and seeks comment from stakeholders.

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The General Services Administration is heading into 2019 with two major interrelated tasks looming. The agency promised to consolidate its 24 buying schedules into one, and at the same time it's working to make good on an order in a defense authorization bill that requires it to establish an online buying platform similar to commercial services like Amazon.com.

Those transformational efforts, GSA Administrator Emily Murphy said at a Dec. 12 agency industry day, are the leading edges of a larger effort, made up of 30 separate projects underway at the agency, that address many modernization issues.

"Transforming the schedule is overdue and it's exciting, but it's only a piece of the broader marketplace strategy," she said. "Beyond the multiple-award front, we need to do more to create value," she said.

GSA is also working on getting technology in place that will help shape the federal marketplace, including a contract-writing system that can handle repetitive, but necessary, portions of the process, Murphy said. The agency is also working on a catalog management system that can integrate vendor product catalogues into the Federal Acquisition Service more efficiently.

Laura Stanton, GSA's deputy assistant commissioner for the IT category, said the e-commerce platform will take shape in response to industry and stakeholder comments. GSA issued a request for information Dec. 4 with some basic information on the contours of the program and is seeking comment on high-level issues.

Initial plans for the platforms include a maximum $10,000 threshold for each order and the development of a  business-to-business commerce. The concept will also include in-depth product descriptions, as well as content review capabilities and shipping status information for buyers.

A report on the effort is due in March, and a proof-of-concept platform pilot is set for the end of 2019.

Analysts and industry representatives were concerned about how the consolidation and the commercial platform might wind up complicating each other down the road.

"The honest answer is we're not sure" how the e-commerce platform will affect schedules, said Stephanie Shutt, director of GSA's Multiple Award Schedule Program Management Office. "We're hoping that as we go forward and proof of concept happens," that will change, she said.

"There are all kinds of e-commerce platforms" in use in the wider commercial market, said Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, on the schedules consolidation panel at the industry day event. "GSA has to assess the impact of the e-commerce platform on the schedule" and existing contract vehicles, he said.

Mathew Blum, associate administrator in the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said moving forward GSA will have to work to help agencies determine which contracting vehicle or platform "makes the most sense" for their needs. That approach, he said, "can help preserve GSA's "tool box of options."

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