GSA fine tunes e-commerce effort

e-commerce (William Potter/ 

The General Services Administration's rerelease of its e-commerce portal solicitation shows the agency is figuring out what works for the ambitious project, according to industry experts.

The agency reissued the solicitation for its commercial e-marketplace on Jan. 8. Vendors who bid on the initial solicitation had until Jan. 15 to submit revisions to their bids.

In its initial October solicitation, GSA asked commercial e-commerce platform providers to compete for its "proof of concept" model that will give federal buyers with government purchase cards an online marketplace where they can buy commercial products priced below the micro-purchase threshold of $10,000.

That foundational plan wasn't changed in the reissued solicitation, industry and regulatory experts said, but some finer details did.

"The changes were not dramatic," Rob Burton, a partner with Crowell & Moring's Government Contracts Group and former deputy administrator of the White House's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, told FCW in an email. "Most of the requirements are the same; however, GSA revised the Statement of Objectives so that offerors have more flexibility and discretion on how to meet GSA's requirements."

GSA's initial solicitation, said Burton, "was flawed because it contained very specific instructions on how to meet the government's requirements, which are inappropriate to include in a statement of objectives.  He called the revised document "an improvement."

Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said the revisions gave providers more latitude, but comes with risks.

"Generally, some requirements look like they've been relaxed," he told FCW, "reinforcing the view that portal provider accountability for supply chain security is being reduced."

Waldron questioned the approach, saying the government has said supply chain security is "foundational to acquisition" and should not be subject to trade-off. 

"The portal platform is the point of intersection between the buyer, the act of purchase and the product," said Waldron, and is a significant opportunity to address supply chain security. "To date, it appears that GSA is not accounting for the role the platform provider should play here."

Ultimately, the changes are aimed at walking the fine line between what Congress asked for -- which is an "Amazon-like" portal where federal agencies could make quick, easy buys of commodity materials -- and what is possible under federal acquisition law, according to Mike Hettinger, president and founding principal of Hettinger Strategy Group.

"The challenge is turning a legislative idea into a portal people can use," he said. "It's proving to be a difficult task." He noted that there are already "a lot of ways" for federal agencies to make low-dollar purchases, including using federal credit cards at established commercial suppliers.

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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