Tag Archives: GSA Buying Portal

Contractors Report Issues With GSA “SAM” Opportunities Portal

Image: SAM Web site


Companies large and small are still not happy with the General Services Administration’s new federal contract opportunities portal, according to the Professional Services Council.


“At the request of its technology and services company members, PSC registered irritation with the balky system in a Feb. 7 letter to Julie Dunne, commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service.

Alan Chvotkin, PSC’s executive vice president and general counsel, told Dunne that some initial start-up pains for the system still nag users.

“Regrettably, initial ‘bumps in the road’ have continued beyond the functionality that GSA announced would not be carried over from the old system, and our members asked that we bring their views to your attention,” said Chvotkin in the letter.

The FedBizOpps contract notification and tracking website was moved to beta.SAM.gov late last year. From the beginning, contractors complained the new site frustrating to search and ineffective. GSA is consolidating several of its legacy awards systems into SAM.

PSC has heard from vendors large and small who said they are having continued trouble with accessing and searching the site, as well difficulties in how search results are displayed, which can have different font sizes and no copy or print functions. The vendors also said email alerts and updates from the site have been uneven. Those problems have been issues since the cutover the new beta.SAM system last November.

“GSA appreciates that the Professional Services Council shared the views of some members regarding the migration of FBO.gov to beta.SAM.gov, as we take the feedback of all users seriously,” a GSA spokesperson told FCW in an email on Feb. 12. “The agency’s Integrated Award Environment team welcomes the opportunity to work with the Council as it conducts a careful review of the input shared with GSA in early February.”

Chvotkin has been talking to GSA about the portal since development began. He told FCW in an interview that some of the issues nagging the system were anticipated by GSA, and the agency has been working to smooth them out. Still, he said, PSC members have been lodging detailed complaints with his organization about the system.

The level of detail in the complaints was surprising, he said. Suggestions from users — including adding saved-search functions, limiting requests for authentication as well offering NAICs-code search functions —  could be considered by GSA to modify the system.

“They’re still in a transition phase where they can make fixes,” said Chvotkin.

That transition could continue for the foreseeable future, according to Chvotkin. GSA plans to add some reporting functionality to the Federal Procurement Data System, better known as FPDS, in the fall.”


General Services Administration Fine Tunes E-Commerce Effort

Image: William Porter, Shutterstock.com


“The General Services Administration’s rerelease of its e-commerce portal solicitation shows the agency is figuring out what works for the ambitious project, according to industry experts.

The agency reissued the solicitation for its commercial e-marketplace on Jan. 8. Vendors who bid on the initial solicitation had until Jan. 15 to submit revisions to their bids.”


“In its initial October solicitation, GSA asked commercial e-commerce platform providers to compete for its “proof of concept” model that will give federal buyers with government purchase cards an online marketplace where they can buy commercial products priced below the micro-purchase threshold of $10,000.

That foundational plan wasn’t changed in the reissued solicitation, industry and regulatory experts said, but some finer details did.

“The changes were not dramatic,” Rob Burton, a partner with Crowell & Moring’s Government Contracts Group and former deputy administrator of the White House’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy, told FCW in an email. “Most of the requirements are the same; however, GSA revised the Statement of Objectives so that offerors have more flexibility and discretion on how to meet GSA’s requirements.”

GSA’s initial solicitation, said Burton, “was flawed because it contained very specific instructions on how to meet the government’s requirements, which are inappropriate to include in a statement of objectives.  He called the revised document “an improvement.”

Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said the revisions gave providers more latitude, but comes with risks.

“Generally, some requirements look like they’ve been relaxed,” he told FCW, “reinforcing the view that portal provider accountability for supply chain security is being reduced.”

Waldron questioned the approach, saying the government has said supply chain security is “foundational to acquisition” and should not be subject to trade-off. 

“The portal platform is the point of intersection between the buyer, the act of purchase and the product,” said Waldron, and is a significant opportunity to address supply chain security. “To date, it appears that GSA is not accounting for the role the platform provider should play here.”

Ultimately, the changes are aimed at walking the fine line between what Congress asked for — which is an “Amazon-like” portal where federal agencies could make quick, easy buys of commodity materials — and what is possible under federal acquisition law, according to Mike Hettinger, president and founding principal of Hettinger Strategy Group.

“The challenge is turning a legislative idea into a portal people can use,” he said. “It’s proving to be a difficult task.” He noted that there are already “a lot of ways” for federal agencies to make low-dollar purchases, including using federal credit cards at established commercial suppliers.”


The Promise And The Cautions In GSA’s New Online Buying Portal


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“The government should strive to create purchasing practices as close to those in the commercial sector as possible while ensuring that all business is treated fairly, competition is maximized and existing status and treaty obligations are respected.”

“As a consumer today, technology has us conditioned that we should receive instant service. You can buy nearly any product through retail portals on the internet. The ability to order something in one click and have it delivered within days has become so commonplace that we expect nothing less.

However, for the federal government, buying a product can take weeks, if not months, and requires numerous approvals due to complex procurement rules. Thanks to the passage of FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), this is about to change. The General Services Administration and the Office of Management and Budget are working toward the establishment of a government e-commerce portal to simplify the ability of federal agencies to buy commercial products. Federal government procurement is at an inflection point and the portal mandate comes at a time when innovation is disrupting the federal status-quo across agencies.

Successful implementation will help allow the federal government to obtain products at the most optimized price, provide additional visibility into the product types offered by a wide range of vendors, increase the supplier diversity in the government and provide industry increased visibility into purchasing behaviors. This will allow the federal workforce to shift from low-value administrative work to higher value mission-centric work.

IT procurement remains a major challenge and GSA needs to tackle the problem before it grows. While the initial phase of GSA’s implementation plan is not currently focused on technology products or services, this is the market area where the federal government will be able to realize the biggest return on the investment of the e-commerce portal. By offering technology for purchase through the portal, the market will be forced to innovate how they go to market with their products and services.

For example, if the government wants to buy a bicycle, the procurement officer goes onto the portal and phase one, they have the individual components such as the bicycle frame, the gearshifts, chains and tires all for sale. If industry begins to see the demand for a configurable version of the bike, then the marketplace will start to commoditize bundled solutions across multiple suppliers, driving competition around those bundled solutions.

The federal government, too, will start to see unique technology requirements and more bundled, packaged solutions.

GSA should consider the following recommendations including:

· Mitigate gray-market purchases. An acquisition from an unauthorized “gray market” entity would impose significant risk, particularly to government end-users. If the intent is truly an open marketplace, internal controls need to ensure that federal purchasers have enough information to distinguish between gray market and authorized products.

· Allow only certified vendors/suppliers. The portal should recognize and promote only those suppliers who are certified by the manufacturer. Manufacturers should have full transparency into who is selling their products on such portals so that they can ensure that the government is aware of suppliers who are engaging in questionable business practices and jeopardizing the security of their products and customers.

· Incorporate industry-led open standards. In a similar vein, GSA should ensure that the portals promote the development and adoption of industry-led open standards. The current, antiquated acquisition system too often permits government buyers to maintain legacy networks that operate on outdated proprietary standards. Limiting portal products to those that are configured on open standards will help ensure that products purchased are interoperable and innovative.

· Mitigate channel conflict. While the FY 2019 NDAA updated the portal statute to say that competition is satisfied if there are offers from two or more suppliers of a product, GSA needs to ensure that the suppliers listed on the portal selling a similar product are two different manufacturers, and not two resellers of the same manufacturer. Simply stated, considering offers from two resellers of the same underlying product is not competition; true competition requires consideration of products from different manufacturers.”