GSA's SAM continues to frustrate its users

The General Services Administration's System for Award Management has gotten off to a rocky start and been plagued by problems that have persisted long after GSA initially said they were fixed.

SAM, which is designed to integrate three acquisition data systems that store and make available information about contractors, went online in July and was taken off-line days later due to performance issues. GSA and IBM say they have been working to fix the problems.

“GSA continues to work with our contractor, IBM, on the SAM.gov website,” GSA spokesman Dan Cruz said Aug. 27 without giving details about the problems. “We are working daily to ensure we can meet the critical information needs of our federal communities and external vendors.”

As a result of the problems, some agencies are pulling away from the new system. In late August, Defense Department officials started allowing its contractors to register in databases other than SAM.

“Deviation is granted,” wrote Richard Ginman, DOD’s director of defense procurement and acquisition policy, in a memo. His variation on the rules removed the requirement for prospective contractors to register in SAM before they could receive a contract award. He also wrote that contracting officers don’t have to check SAM to ensure that a company is registered in the system before making an award.

“Since implementation, SAM has experienced issues that have affected the timely processing of awards,” Ginman wrote. “GSA has been taking aggressive action to resolve these issues promptly. This deviation provides a brief period of time for achieving resolution of the remaining issues and will remain in effect only until these actions are complete.”

In 2008, GSA began a long and rough transition away from outdated information systems to combine several governmentwide databases in a bid to become more efficient. SAM includes three Integrated Acquisition Environment systems: the Central Contractor Registration system that companies use to register certain business information before being considered for contract awards; the Online Representations and Certifications Application for submitting certifications on matters such as company size and ownership status; and the Excluded Parties List System, which is a record of the companies suspended or debarred from federal work.

Cruz said users can go to the Federal Service Desk website at FSD.gov for guidance and information on using SAM.

Through the years, federal officials and contractors have been looking for two components for their data system, said Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president of global public-sector government affairs at TechAmerica. They want a system that implements all the rules they need to comply with, and they want data related to a contract award to be uploaded when the agency makes the award and available from day one.

Unfortunately, systems were built to stand alone on a vertical scale, and they don’t interact across platforms. Furthermore, none of them does everything everyone wants, he said.

GSA’s road to rectifying the situation has been bumpy, and the acquisition community is frustrated. One reader wrote that he entered his company’s information into SAM only to have it disappear from the system. Worse, some users were unable to find anyone to help them. They reported busy signals on the phone all day long and no replies to help tickets.

“Phone seems to be off hook. Trying to set password. Endless loop of no help,” Christy from Georgia wrote.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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