Vendors: No high-end IT on GSA Advantage

Information technology vendors have been meeting since April with officials from the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Service trying to convince them not to include high-end computer equipment on their GSA Advantage electronic commerce system.

But for now GSA officials plan to put the products on the system.Industry representatives do not want high-end computer equipment that currently is offered on GSA Schedule 70 A - such as mainframes high-end servers and multiuser systems - on the Advantage system because they believe the equipment is too complex to be bought through Advantage's simplified purchasing method. They said Advantage's acquisition format will not allow schedule customers in federal agencies to adequately compare products because the features and requirements are too numerous and intricate.

"We're not convinced that government buyers specifically those who buy sophisticated computer equipment are looking for this kind of one-stop shop " said Ken Salaets director of the Information Technology Industry Council. "GSA wants to create an [EC] architecture that works for everything and that isn't going to work. You can't take workstations and servers and bring them in with flashlights and ladders."

Salaets said he remains hopeful that GSA will alter its plan to include Schedule 70 A contracts on GSA Advantage but he added that he has received no indication from the agency that it plans to do so. "Right now I think our concern is that GSA is already locked into this design " he said.

Although GSA already has begun accepting electronic orders via GSA Advantage for desktop systems on Schedule 70 B/C contracts the agency is still in the process of putting contracts for multiuser computers on the system. Salaets noted that problems that exist on the system for Schedule 70 B/C will be exacerbated on 70 A contracts.

"[GSA Advantage] hasn't even worked very well with PCs " he said. "A lot of companies submit information to the system and it never seems to get on-line or it gets on-line and disappears. There are a lot of bugs but that is to be expected."

Larry Allen executive director of the industry association Coalition for Government Procurement said his members share the same concerns and representatives from his group have met repeatedly with GSA officials in attempts to "arrive at something mutually agreeable." The discussions "went reasonably well but were inconclusive " he said.

Like Salaets Allen said GSA Advantage shows promise but remains problematic. He agreed that the system would make it difficult for users to compare similar products on 70 A contracts. He added that "vendors would have to do a lot of work to get 70 A schedules on-line."

Salaets wrote in April to Bill Gormley the assistant commissioner for acquisition at FSS pointing out that GSA's plans would require vendors to generate and submit product data in a format that differs from the format supporting their commercial operations.

"Indeed the product information that GSA intends to make available via GSA Advantage duplicates similar information that is - or soon will be - readily accessible to government agencies and other customers via our members' Internet Web sites " he wrote.

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