Opportunity for addressing fundamental questions surrounding e-commerce

This column was originally published on Roger Waldron’s blog at The Coalition for Government Procurement and was republished here with permission from the author.

On Wednesday, Dec. 12, the General Services Administration (GSA) will be hosting a federal marketplace industry day to discuss the future of the Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) program and its ongoing implementation efforts related to Section 846 of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Pursuant to that section, GSA is charged with establishing and managing an e-commerce portal program that facilitates the acquisition of certain commercial off-the-shelf items government-wide.

Notably, the date of the meeting is also the one-year anniversary of Section 846’s enactment into law. Anniversaries are important. They provide us with an opportunity to reflect so that we may better ourselves as we progress forward. In this regard, the Coalition recognizes GSA for facilitating this timely, impactful event for all stakeholders in the Federal procurement community. We appreciate the opportunity to discuss the challenges and potential benefits associated with the move to e-Commerce solutions envisioned by Section 846.

Over the past year, much of the conversation surrounding Section 846 has focused on striking the right balance between unique government requirements and acquisition streamlining. As the Coalition has noted, striking this balance is important, not only for the success of the commercial e-commerce portal program, but also for the stability of the entire federal procurement system. Commercial practices and terms can enhance competition, access to innovation, and best value for customer agencies. At the same time, however, there are operational imperatives and policy mandates pursuant to law and regulation (e.g. cybersecurity, TAA, BAA, small business and other preference programs) that frame the federal market.

Implementation of Section 846 is a continually evolving effort, and this week, GSA issued a request for information (RFI) seeking feedback on several draft documents, as well as questions related to its Commercial e-Commerce Portals initiative. The Coalition is currently gathering feedback from its members on the RFI and will be sharing our input with GSA prior to the December 21st deadline. As we have previously stated, there are several critical issues related to the implementation of Section 846 for the government to address, including, but not limited to:

  • Compliance and identification of core government-unique requirements
  • Data ownership and control
  • Pricing and competition
  • Potential conflicts of interest
  • Mandatory sources
  • Cyber and supply chain risk

GSA has indicated in recent forums that the principle value of the Schedules program is that it provides customers with ready access to compliant products at “competitive” prices. Indeed, recent studies have confirmed this in comparisons with alternative commercial platforms. These studies noted that GSA provides faster and cheaper shipping for its customers than the commercial alternatives to which they are compared.

Moreover, as part of its recent announcement regarding the designation of GSA Global Supply (GGS) as a “best-in-class” vehicle, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Government-wide Category Management Program Management Office noted that internal studies demonstrated that GGS prices are 20 to 30 percent lower than commercial alternatives. It will be interesting to hear from GSA at the industry day how it will ensure that compliance and pricing offered through the commercial e-Commerce portals will be comparable to current GSA programs.

Ahead of next week’s meeting, these issues are important and represent fertile ground for collaboration between GSA, OMB, customer agencies and industry. Such engagement increases the potential for program success, and the Coalition for Government Procurement welcomes it.

Roger Waldron is the president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, and host of Off the Shelf on Federal News Radio.