GSA closes in on e-commerce portal plan

Shutterstock ID 577492282 By William Potter 

General Services Administration officials addressed  industry concerns over the agency's efforts to develop an Amazon-like online buying portal to purchase common, off-the-shelf items at a June 21 town hall-style meeting.

Those industry concerns ranged from settling for a single platform provider, to pricing and compliance issues.

The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act required GSA and the Office of Management and Budget to set up e-commerce portals with advanced capabilities similar to Amazon's online marketplace to simplify and modernize agency purchases of commercial products.

The agency is eying a late-2019 initial pilot roll out of the platform, said Laura Stanton, executive program lead, commercial platform and assistant commissioner, in GSA's Federal Acquisition Service's Office of Enterprise Strategy Management. The platform will be scaled up over a period of years.

GSA Senior Procurement Executive Jeff Koses pledged that if the e-commerce portal solicitation only attracts a single vendor, it will be cancelled, and the agency will "take several steps back" to ensure that there are multiple providers.

Koses also told industry that GSA isn't trying to create parallel pricing worlds with different sets of rules for vendors. He said some in industry have been concerned that the portal, which would accommodate purchases of up to $10,000, could undercut their participation on other GSA buying platforms, such as its schedules. GSA has proposed raising this micropurchase ceiling to $25,000.

Another issue is whether commercial e-commerce platforms would favor their own products over those marketed by competitors.

Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement said potential competition between established GSA schedules and the new e-commerce platforms could pose a problem for some vendors. Providers spend money and time to list products and services on multiple programs.

"Companies have to make decisions based on compliance and costs," Waldron said.

Matthew Blum associate administrator for the Office of Federal Procurement Policy noted that tension "already exists" among providers having to participate and sustain that participation in multiple GSA contracting vehicles.

Koses said GSA "doesn't have all the answers" on how the portal will affect traditional schedules and other selling vehicles and how sellers participate in them. That is part of what the portal could define going forward, according to Koses and other GSA officials.

GSA is seeking comment from industry and stakeholders on these issues. A request for information is aimed at suppliers to get ideas on how to organize and categorize the portal and how to deal with cybersecurity, supply chain, shipping and pricing issues. A separate RFI aimed at portal providers seeks information on algorithmic pricing and how to integrate government procurement requirements.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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