GSA makes 3 awards in e-commerce test

The General Services Administration awarded spots on its long-awaited e-commerce platform proof-of-concept test to Amazon, Overstock and Fisher Scientific.

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The General Services Administration on Friday tapped three e-commerce providers for its Commercial e-Marketplace "proof of concept" program that is the first step to letting government buyers use familiar commercial platforms to conduct low-dollar acquisitions.

Amazon Business, Fisher Scientific and will each provide a GSA-approved online marketplace where agencies employees can buy commercial products priced below the micro-purchase threshold of $10,000 using government-issued purchase cards, according to GSA award announcements.

The awards, said GSA in a June 26 statement, will allow those purchases for up to three years under the proof-of-concept. The agency anticipates the initial service to be available in the next 30 days.

GSA's Commercial Platforms initiative one of four cornerstone modernization projects for GSA's Federal Marketplace Strategy to simplify buying and selling experience for customers, suppliers, and acquisition managers.

"The e-commerce portals proof-of-concept is an important step in offering a solution for purchasing commercial products online that protects our federal supply chain against malicious and counterfeit goods, furthering our national security," said GSA Administrator Emily Murphy in a GSA. "Our approach continues to be shaped by [the Department of Homeland Security's] Best Practices for E-Commerce Platforms and Third-Party Marketplaces, combining better security practices, better data, and better pricing."

The impetus for the program came from Congress, which mandated e-commerce portals for federal buyers in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. Congress had initially pressed for a $250,000 acquisition threshold for e-commerce, but that was lowered to the $10,000 level after multiple rounds of consultation with stakeholders and industry.

The three contracts were awarded through GSA's Federal Acquisition Service's Center of Innovative Acquisition. According to one industry source, the contracts come with no startup costs to the government -- the awardees are making investments in customizing their platforms for government purchasers in order to make money providing services.

FAS Commissioner Julie Dunne, said in the statement that the proof-of-concept will start small and will be refined through repeated testing. The agency will continue to get stakeholder feedback throughout the development.

"I'm excited for the path ahead—especially the spend data. Such data will help with compliance in areas like AbilityOne, small business, and supply chain risk management."

GSA issued the original solicitation last October, and tweaked it in January with some provisions that gave offerors have more flexibility and discretion on how to meet GSA's requirements.

A key issue in the original solicitation and with the proof-of-concept component remains agency buy-in.

In the original solicitation, GSA cautioned prospective vendors that it had no indicators to predict whether agencies would welcome the opportunity to let buyers conduct one-off micro-purchases via commercial e-commerce platforms.

"Adoption is often gradual with new initiatives and the government is unable to predict how quickly agencies may adopt use of the marketplaces and how much of their spend might go through them," the agency said in the solicitation.

"As one of the industry participants awarded a contract, we look forward to providing an efficient, cost-effective option for federal purchasing that brings savings to taxpayers while also supporting independent small and diverse businesses selling in our stores," said Anne Rung, Director of Public Sector, Amazon Business. "In addition to the many government customers already using Amazon Business, we can provide considerable value in the procurement experience to federal agencies that participate in the pilot. And if there’s anything we’ve learned this year, it’s that Amazon Business can serve as a resource to the government during uncertain times."

This article was updated June 26 with additional information.