PCs, software will be first GSA MAS wares

Computer software and accessories, PCs, Macs and workstations will be among the first multiple-award schedule (MAS) items that federal customers can buy from GSA Advantage, an Internet-accessible ordering and purchasing site.

By October of next year, the General Services Administration hopes to make more than 4 million stock and schedule items available on-line for purchase from GSA Advantage, which is divided into different "stores" offering everything from computers to office furniture.

A GSA employee last week purchased an anti-glare computer screen from GSA Advantage, marking the first government purchase of an MAS item from the on-line system. Until then, only stock items were available for on-line purchase.

Over the next year and a half, GSA will make more MAS items available for purchase from GSA Advantage using a government credit card or GSA account number. Items will be added as the contract periods are up for renewal, said Teresa Sorrenti, GSA's director for the Acquisitions Operations and Electronic Commerce Center, which is part of the Federal Supply Service.

Government customers can now use GSA Advantage to purchase items from the MAS Schedule 58, which provides computer peripherals. By the end of June GSA Advantage will support Schedule 70 B/C, which offers workstations and PCs, said Ed O'Hare, director of the FSS Technical Support Division.

Under Schedule 70 B/C, "You'll be able to search [for computers] by vendor name, product name, manufacturer's name and part number," O'Hare said.

In addition, the system offers a way for customers to search for items with particular features, such as color screens, Pentium chips or a certain size hard drive.

Agencies that do not want to use the Internet to access GSA Advantage will have the option to use a dial-in software package distributed by GSA. Called Advantage Access, the package allows a customer to dial in to the system and use the same browser interface.

At least one agency will connect to GSA Advantage without using the Internet or a dial-up package.

"At the Federal Aviation Administration, we're going to connect their corporate network with [GSA's] corporate network," O'Hare said.

He added that the Internal Revenue Service has also signaled interest in connecting directly to GSA as a way to avoid security risks.

"If the customer doesn't have access, we overcome that. If the customer has security concerns, we can overcome that too," he said.

Customers must use Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator, Microsoft Corp.'s Explorer or another World Wide Web browser that supports the Secure Sockets Layer application, which provides encryption. The customer's order goes to GSA, which relays it to the vendor via electronic data interchange or fax.

Within a year of offering products on GSA Advantage, a vendor must be able to receive purchase orders from GSA using EDI, O'Hare said.

"As vendors receive their award, they get a starter kit" so they can participate in the GSA Advantage purchasing program, she said.

Vendors have 45 days after their contract renewal to submit the information needed to support GSA Advantage purchases.

GSA expects the system to increase competition among vendors because it will allow customers to easily compare vendors' prices against one another. A customer browsing on GSA Advantage can look at a listing of all vendors selling a particular PC, for example. GSA Advantage will line up the listings by price.

"The visibility of the vendor products does keep the prices down," Sorrenti said. In addition, vendors "can come in [to the GSA Advantage system] and lower their price. That will be immediately posted, so it does further competitiveness."

Sorrenti said the system will alert the customer when he or she has hit a maximum purchase order and will instruct the customer to call the vendor directly to negotiate for a better price with the same GSA terms and conditions.

In the past, "in order to do a real analysis, you had to get a hold of the 15 or 20 catalog lists that were offered from each vendor," said Ralph Hostetter, program manager in GSA's Acquisitions Operations and Electronic Commerce Center. "With GSA Advantage, all of those are on-line."

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