Neglected federal procurement site to get major facelift

Well golly gee and tickle my fancy, the General Services Administration may just get me off of one of my soapboxes after all.

Sorry to report it’s not my seemingly never-ending quest for GSA and all other agencies to make task orders publicly viewable even if you can’t bid on them — Mr. Sharpe: Tear Down This Wall.

Instead, GSA, thankfully, has started the process to modernize the FedBizOpps.gov portal, what many say is one of the worst websites in government.

GSA issued a request for quotes through the Alliant Small Business governmentwide acquisition contract back in the December time frame and bids were due sometime in January or February — it’s all unclear because GSA released the RFQ behind the “firewall” of Alliant, meaning (going back to my initial soapbox) the public can’t see any details of the procurement despite this being taxpayer money and transparency being a major goal of the Obama administration.

A GSA spokeswoman confirmed bids on the RFQ are closed and the agency is evaluating offers. To their credit, GSA also provided me with a copy of the RFQ, instead of what usually happens, which is for me to have to go to industry to get a copy.

Why is this a monumental moment?

The FedBizOpps portal is stuck in the 2000s. The website is hard to use, includes few noticeable upgrades in the last decade and, maybe most annoying, when you do a search, click on a result, and then want to go back to the search results, it requires you to “reload” the page, rendering the “back” button useless. Come on GSA, this isn’t that hard of an upgrade.

On top of all of that, the company running FedBizOpps.gov was suspended from federal procurement from September until January, and has held the contract for more than a decade.

Symplicity Corporation won the contract to run FedBizOpps in 2005, and in May 2014 its former owner Ariel Friedler pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to hack into the computer systems of two education-sector competitors to improve his company’s software development and sales strategy. Friedler resigned from Symplicity immediately and was replaced with a new CEO.

The government decided to suspend the company for four months, meaning it could continue to work on FedBizOpps.gov and other government systems including the Electronic Subcontracting Reporting System (eSRS), the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act Subaward Reporting System (FSRS) and the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA), but it couldn’t receive new contracts.

Why GSA didn’t recompete FedBizOpps.gov sooner when Symplicity ran into trouble is unclear, and to make things more confusing, the System for Award Management (SAM)  continues to list Symplicity as “inactive” and “ineligible (proceedings pending).” Here is the data from SAM as of Feb. 21:


 

Exclusion Program: Reciprocal
Classification Type: Firm
Exclusion Type: Ineligible (Proceedings Pending)
Nature (Cause):  
Preliminary ineligible based upon adequate evidence of conduct indicating a lack of business honesty or integrity, or a lack of business integrity, or regulation, statute, executive order or other legal authority, pending completion of an investigation and/or legal proceedings; or based upon initiation of proceedings to determine final ineligibility based upon regulation, statute, executive order or other legal authority or a lack of business integrity or a preponderance of the evidence of any other cause of a serious and compelling nature that it affects present responsibility.

The GSA spokeswoman said GSA lifted Symplicity’s suspension on Jan. 8, and the company is currently performing work and running the systems.

A GSA official said by email, “When we log in (using one of our SAM experts log-in info), we just verified about 20 minutes ago (on Feb. 19) that Symplicity is registered and is showing as active.”

Why the public view of SAM.gov is listing Symplicity Corporation as inactive is unclear and is a bit frustrating considering so many people rely on the portal for accurate information.

Just to be sure, I checked the address on SAM.gov with the company’s website and it matches, so it’s the same Symplicity Corp.

Symplicity has been running the portal since 2005 when GSA awarded a $17.4 million contract over a three-year base with five one-year options. So the contract should’ve expired in 2013, but instead GSA doesn’t expect the new site to come online until 2017, meaning 12 years with the same contractor. That’s a mighty long time.

“Symplicity will continue to provide operation and maintenance for the current FBO until modernization is complete (anticipated completion date is sometime in early FY 2017),” the spokeswoman said.

Whether or not Symplicity is suspended is not really the story here.

The issue at hand is why did it take GSA more than a decade to finally decide it was time to upgrade FedBizOpps.gov?

And does the RFQ really take FedBizOpps.gov and the other sites into 2017 and beyond?

Under the firm-fixed price and labor hour contract that includes a base of 10 months, and four options totaling 34 more months, GSA wants the vendor to use an agile development approach to modernize both FedBizOpps, ESRS and FSRS. The agency expects new capabilities every two weeks on average with a total of eight sprints for an initial product release.

“The new applications will replace and enhance all critical and major business processes supported today in FBO (fbo.gov) and the data collection systems. The application must be fully operational and able to support all critical components of the FBO portion by October 7, 2016,” GSA wrote in the statement of work.

GSA wants the vendor to modernize everything from the FedBizOpps.gov landing page to how the search engine works to creating a personalized dashboard of opportunities to being interoperable with a contract writing system.

Really no matter what comes from this effort, it will be better than the current site, and the fact GSA is using an agile approach leads me to believe the team is taking advantage of user needs and functionality found in nearly every other big data website.

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