GSA closes in on plans to try out e-commerce portal

GSA will send implementation plans for its e-commerce portal project to Congress this month.

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This month, the General Services Administration will set the stage for a critical piece of its future by revealing plans on how it will implement e-commerce portals that will eventually let federal agencies leverage the cost savings and convenience of buying from commercial online marketplaces such as Amazon.com.

GSA and the Office of Management and Budget are working on Phase Two implementation plans for a commercial platform effort for federal agencies. The plan is due to Congress by the end of the month, according to a GSA spokeswoman.  It outlines GSA's implementation approach as well as the program decisions and provides supporting research that guided the decisions.

The plans lay the groundwork for Phase Three of GSA's e-commerce platform effort, an initial proof-of-concept trial proposed for the end of the year.

E-commerce platforms are a critical piece of GSA's technological transformation of its processes, Crystal Philcox, assistant commissioner of enterprise strategy management for the Federal Acquisition Service, told an ACT-IAC gathering in late February.

GSA and OMB issued a request for information in December looking for industry and federal agency input on the effort.  FAS official Laura Stanton said top-line takeaways from respondents were: keep it simple, protect sellers' data, keep pricing competitive, ensure competition across various portal models  and consider special supply-chain issues, particularly for health and IT products.

After the report is submitted to Congress, GSA and OMB will reach out to stakeholders including the appropriate congressional committees, customer agencies, the acquisition workforce and industry, a GSA spokeswoman said.

The portal is not an easy lift for a number of logistical and regulatory reasons. GSA has to thread the needle of aligning federal purchasing practices and rules for commercial-off-the-shelf goods with commercially operated platforms for consumers that operate with substantially less restrictive practices.

Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council told FCW in an interview that he believes GSA has developed the plan methodically, is proceeding cautiously and will ultimately land a workable solution, despite the complexities of grafting federal rules onto commercial platforms.

Chvotkin said he expects the plan GSA is set to deliver to Congress won't center on an immediate, specific model, but will be "minimalist and diversified" across a number of possibilities. The report, he said, is unlikely to telegraph which direction the agency will go, and the resulting pilot will most likely be small and include multiple platforms.

One of the biggest hurdles GSA will face after the trial is the actual decision on which way to proceed, he said.

Among the changes GSA might ask from Congress, said Rob Burton, former deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and now partner at Crowell & Moring, is a change to the language governing how commercial e-commerce providers and product sellers use sales data from transactions on GSA's platform.

Currently the language of the congressional mandate in the 2018 NDAA for the program precludes use of any of the data from the GSA's ecommerce portal effort, Burton told FCW in an interview.

Burton said GSA has to find a way to make its portal effort attractive to companies that are selling through GSA's existing schedules.  "Where's the incentive for sellers to give discounts on the GSA portal? They're already selling to agencies right now," he said.

NEXT STORY: GSA launches Air Force contract

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