GSA digs into details for planned e-commerce portal

GSA is ironing out the details for its online marketplace as it moves ahead with a draft solicitation.

e-commerce (William Potter/Shutterstock.com)

The General Services Administration is working through the intricate details of its planned e-commerce platform and expects to have a pilot in place by the end of the year, according to agency staff associated with the project.

In late April, GSA issued its market research report on the congressionally mandated effort to set up an e-marketplace for federal agencies. GSA detailed plans for standing up a marketplace model pilot by the end of 2019 and recommended that the micropurchase threshold -- the maximum agencies can spend without going to a competitive procurement -- be raised to $25,000. GSA also wanted five years to run a pilot.

GSA administrator Emily Murphy said the project is a key part of the agency's move to transform into a more efficient, customer-focused agency.

In remarks at the Coalition for Government Procurement's spring conference, Murphy said the project has been "developed with significant market analysis in consultation with industry [and] stakeholders" though data analysis, one-on-one demos, industry days and other methods. "Work is already underway on our draft solicitation for the initial proof of concept," she said. The plan will enable the agency to "start small, test with actual purchases and spend data" before moving ahead, and will be refined as lessons are learned, she added.

The plan got some pushback from potential product suppliers at the event, however.

Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, questioned GSA officials on a panel discussing the portal's pricing, fees and incentives for agencies. He said suppliers would have to pay fees to participate in the portal as well as for their listing on the agency's schedule programs, which could erode any profits from participating. He said his group's members, which include commercial service and product companies that sell to the federal government, are also concerned that price comparisons between portal and schedule weren't made.

"We will ensure that we address" the question of schedule and pilot pricing as part of the draft RFQ coming in the third quarter this year, Jeff Koses, senior procurement executive at GSA, said at the event.

GSA officials, including Laura Stanton, deputy assistant commissioner for category management for the agency's office of information technology category, stressed that the pilot is a starting place for the e-commerce platform.

"One of the pieces of work we're doing now is to very clearly define the outcomes and success measures," Stanton said, adding that part of the effort is to compare the pricing on consumer e-marketplace sites where federal employees are already buying goods. "Anyone that's shopping on these consumer sites [is] paying those consumer prices," she said. Looking at how the pricing of the GSA portal "compares to consumer pricing is an important metric."

 "We're still finalizing all of the details around the proof of concept," she said.

On a separate panel, officials from several federal agencies said they are excited by GSA's e-commerce platform, but they are also watching closely to see how it addresses some of their concerns.

"The VA is excited" about the pilot, said Phil Christy, deputy executive director/chief acquisition officer, office of acquisition, logistics and construction at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Although the pilot will initially exclude health and IT products, Christy said he's hoping the portal will help his agency purchase back-office goods.

"DHS is watching this closely," said Nina Ferraro, deputy chief procurement officer at the Department of Homeland Security. "We're excited, but have questions about training, oversight and costs."

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