GSA Unveils Key Tenets of Governmentwide E-Commerce Pilot

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The implementation plan outlines three major policies that will inform their initial version of the portal, which is scheduled to launch in late 2019.

The General Services Administration is kicking off the final phase of a multi-year effort to stand up a governmentwide e-commerce platform that would make it easier for agencies to buy commercial products.

GSA on Thursday released the implementation plan for part two of its commercial platforms initiative, laying out the blueprint for the initial version of the portal. In the months ahead, GSA and the Office of Management and Budget will start hunting for multiple vendors to build a proof of concept of the platform, which is scheduled to launch in late 2019.

The system would allow agencies to quickly purchase a wide variety of commercial products without going through the lengthy government procurement process. By offering items like office supplies, tools and hardware, the portal would make it easier for industry to do business with government and lower the price of basic goods for federal agencies, according to GSA officials.

“GSA is focused on continuously improving the federal buying and selling experience through the commercial platform program as a part of our broader federal marketplace strategy,” GSA Administrator Emily Murphy said in a statement. “By creating a modern buying experience for commercial items, GSA will reduce the burden on small businesses and our customer agencies. Ultimately, this will create greater value for taxpayers.”

In the newly released strategy, officials said they plan to “start small, test and refine” the initial platform starting at a handful of agencies and eventually scaling it up across government. The first iteration of the portal will follow an “e-marketplace” model, which would allow third-party vendors to sell goods on a platform, but officials said they will continue exploring other operating models that have been successful in the private sector.

During the pilot, agencies using the portal will only be allowed to buy products that cost less than the federal “micro-purchase threshold,” which today stands at $10,000. GSA and OMB asked Congress to temporarily raise the price ceiling to $25,000 for the duration of the five-year pilot, but lawmakers have yet to approve the request.

In creating the plan, GSA and OMB gathered extensive feedback from the private sector through multiple industry days and requests for information. Officials said they will continue discussions with industry throughout the duration of the program.

GSA plans to release a solicitation for vendors to build the proof of concept by the end of June, and the pilot will begin in earnest by the end of the calendar year. They anticipate piloting the platform at a handful of agencies and scaling it across all of government sometime in 2020.

In a conversation with reporters, GSA officials stressed that the platform is being explicitly built to lower barriers to entry for small businesses and allow them to compete with traditional government vendors. They said the agency plans to award multiple contracts for the pilot program to prevent any one company from getting a monopoly on government e-commerce, something many in industry worried would happen when the idea was first proposed.

“One of the central points that we’ve emphasized is that this needs to be multiple award,” Jeff Koses, GSA’s senior procurement executive, said during a press call. “If we don’t see at least two good offers that meet all the requirements that we’re comfortable with, we’re not going to award. We cannot be locked into a single provider—we see a number of risks in a single award environment.”

Today, GSA doesn’t have a specific number of vendors in mind for the pilot program, according to Koses. If more companies sign on, “that lets suppliers shop around more, that lets the agencies have more choice, and I think that pushes better performance,” he said.