GSA gets ready for new e-commerce portals

Federal acquisition pros are gearing up to implement a provision in the defense authorization bill to let government buy through existing online marketplaces.

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Federal acquisition pros are gearing up to implement a provision in the defense authorization bill to let government buy through existing online marketplaces, like Amazon, Wal-Mart, Staples and Granger.

The provision, first introduced as a stand-alone bill by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), was recently signed into law by President Donald Trump as part of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.

The General Services Administration is acting quickly to meet its first deadline -- an implementation plan due within 90 days of the law taking effect. GSA is collecting comments and hosting a town hall-style meeting on Jan. 9 to get feedback from industry on what these portals will look like and how they will or won't be integrated with other GSA buying options such as the Federal Supply Schedules including the IT-focused Schedule 70, GSA Advantage, GSA eBuy and GSA Global.

Governmentwide demand for commercial products exceeds $50 billion per year, according to GSA estimates.

GSA is seeking feedback on program design, best practices for buying and opinions on whether existing laws, regulations, policies or executive orders might get in the way of successfully rolling out the e-commerce portals.

"Throughout its history, GSA has sought to leverage the best available technology to help agencies shorten the time to delivery, reduce administrative cost, make compliance easier, be a strategic thought leader and supplier of choice across the Federal Government, and be a good partner to industry. Today, the best available technology includes commercial e-commerce portals," the agency wrote in a Dec. 14 Federal Register notice.

While backers of the provision were looking to strip some of the red tape out of acquisition by letting government buyers pick up items off virtual shelves like ordinary consumers, GSA and other acquisition centers in government have been taking steps to leverage the buying power of government through centralization and standardization. GSA is looking for insight into how such portals might intersect with those efforts, whether there will be any "unintended consequences" of admitting new portals to the government acquisition space and how the providers will be treated under acquisition rules.

GSA is also looking for thoughts on how many portals should be authorized under the law, whether a single provider might tapped for individual product categories and whether a metasearch model such as exists in the commercial travel space might be utilized for government commercial-off-the-shelf purchases.

The law calls for the portals to be available to acquisitions under $250,000. For the purposes of phasing in the law, GSA is seeking opinions on whether an incremental approach makes sense and whether that should be structured by dollar amount or by product category.

Additionally, GSA is hoping for comments on whether vendors would need relief from existing laws, regulations and practices to find participation in the program attractive.