Move away from WORST WEBSITE IN GOVERNMENT delayed for fourth time

Do you remember the movie Major League and the way the baseball team’s skipper motivated his squad to win more games? For every win, he removed a piece of paper on a poster that eventually revealed the team owner in a skimpy outfit.

Maybe it’s an approach the General Services Administration can use for its System for Award Management or SAM.gov site. While I don’t believe GSA employees need to be motivated by a revealing photo of any person, maybe the staff and senior leaders could use a similar tactic. Think about a countdown clock or maybe Alan Thomas, the Federal Acquisition Service’s commissioner, could offer to grow a mustache and Elvis side burns to give the group a little kick in the pants to decommission more of these legacy sites in favor of the beta.SAM.gov site more quickly.

A little more motivation is needed because of continued problems with SAM.gov and the news that the transition away from the WORST WEBSITE IN GOVERNMENT will be delayed for a fourth time to mid-November.

The latest problem with SAM.gov is around vendors getting or renewing a Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) Code. This is a five-digit number that only federal contractors need to do business with agencies. It provides a standardized method of identifying a given legal entity at a specific location.

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) is responsible for providing CAGE codes to vendors, mostly through the SAM.gov portal.

So this latest problem really doesn’t have anything to do with GSA or the site, except for guilt by association, and a reminder that the archaic systems and processes remain in place.

As the federal fourth quarter buying season picks up steam, DLA reports a delay in processing CAGE Code requests. A DLA spokesman said more than one-third of all requests are taking longer than typically expected.

“The backlog is the result of an increase in 4th quarter registration requests coupled with a more deliberative security review and validation process being implemented by DLA,” the spokesman said. “Currently about 36% of registrations are above the 10 business day target, but that percentage is being reduced on a daily basis. DLA is employing overtime and is hiring additional employees to incorporate system upgrades and meet the target CAGE code processing timelines.”

An internal GSA document obtained by Federal News Network said the delay has been happening since April and is causing lags in SAM.gov registrations.

A GSA spokesperson added, “GSA is processing registrations as soon as the CAGE validations are complete and will continue to work closely with DLA and with Integrated Award Environment (IAE) governance to expedite registrations as appropriate to reduce the impact during the fourth quarter buying season.”

Bad news for new contractors

That’s all good unless you are a new contractor trying to bid on work or an organization applying for a grant.

That is the case for one organization in California.

The person who called me, who I’ll call Tammy, said they applied for a CAGE Code three weeks before the deadline of the first grant application they wanted to apply for. As the grant deadline came and went, the organization received no word from DLA.

“We talked to DLA and they said ‘there is a backlog and that’s all I can tell you. It will be processed,’” Tammy told me. “They offered no details on where we are in the process. There are specific deadlines that we had to hit and I thought we had enough time, but we missed them So we can’t apply for another year. The funds are there to be applied for and I think we qualify, and that’s why it’s frustrating.”

Tammy is not alone in her frustrations.

Phillip Luebke, a government contracting advisor at the Bozeman Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) at Montana State University, said his clients have seen delays, and in conversations with other PTAC advisors, the CAGE Code backlog comes up often.

“I’m not sure I’m ready to sound the alarm and I’m hopeful that it will clear out pretty soon. But we haven’t been given any information from DLA on what the holdup is and how long it will take to get through it,” he said. “Maybe goes back to government shutdown. It’s one of those things hiccups with process. We try to work through it. We have network of PTAC counselors so we know what’s normal and what’s not, but individual contractors don’t know what to expect or what is concerning.”

And that is rub, the lack of communication from GSA and DLA is part of the problem, especially at a time when nearly every agency wants “new” or “innovative” vendors to bid on contracts.

Telling vendors or potential new grant organizations, there is a delay is nice, but offering workarounds or specific details is much more of an encouraging sign that speaks to telling creating honest communication channels with all vendors.

“This is probably the worst it’s been in my time as far as CAGE delays,” Luebke said. “There would be sometimes when you help someone and the next day after IRS validation comes back they were active, and other times it took longer. But I haven’t experienced this widespread of a backlog.”

As for Tammy, her CAGE Code finally came through after 33 days. One day it just popped up in her email. For others, the wait continues and when it will end, no one really knows.

The end of FBO.gov is farther away

This latest hiccup for SAM.gov leads us down the path of FedBizOpps.gov — which I still contend is the WORST WEBSITE IN GOVERNMENT.

The GSA spokesperson confirmed the plan is to migrate FBO.gov to beta.SAM.gov by mid-November now.

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“In July 2019, with the consensus of the Procurement Committee for eGov, IAE updated the date to transition the FBO functionalities to beta.sam.gov to November 8, 2019; moving the date from mid-October to mid-November and still within the first quarter of FY20. The change, formally requested by the IAE Change Control Board allows for additional system integration time, will have minimal impact to the overall cost and schedule,” the spokesperson said. “There have not been any unexpected challenges in decommissioning the system; we are building on the success of decommissioning CFDA.gov, and recently WDOL.gov, and are proceeding as expected.”

But sources tell me that the original decommission date was first quarter 2019, then third quarter 2019 and then first quarter 2020, and now later in first quarter 2020.

The internal GSA presentation potentially identifies one reason for the schedule change. It says GSA wants to “reduce the government burden of the transition” by cleaning up “active” records in FBO.gov, some of which are more than 15 years old. By July 17, GSA said it had archived all notices whose date had passed.

GSA just started testing the replacement for FBO.gov with about 200 “alpha users” in early July and they will continue their end-to-end test through Aug. 30.

And beta.SAM.gov has been available for external testing for some time. I’ve used it several times over the last six months so here are my initial thoughts:

  • Finding the site coming from the main beta.SAM.gov page is a little confusing. It’s called “contracting opportunities.” While that makes logical sense, when you are coming in from FBO.gov, my first thought was to look for something with a similar name.
  • Searching the site needs some work. You can’t search phrases so if you put in “cloud computing,” the site searches “cloud” and “computing.” That is a problem because there are more “cloud” and “computing” results than “cloud computing” results, particularly because you are talking about three different things.
  • Results of searches are better than FBO.gov, and you can sort by relevancy and newest listings. The next update would be good if the listings were inclusive instead of each modification or change coming up separately, forcing the user to sort through to find the original notice.
  • Overall the user interface is clean, easy to use and logical.
  • GSA has plans to add Login.gov capabilities to the site. My recommendation would be to limit it to what I’ll call “power users” — those people who bid on solicitations and need to see technical or other potentially procurement sensitive data. For those of us who just want to follow a procurement or see what’s out there on a regular basis, having to use Login.gov will not be user-friendly. I’ve experienced the same frustration with USAjobs.gov, when I only want to do a basic search.

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