“In an April 10 memo, Jeffrey Koses, GSA’s senior procurement executive in the agency’s Office of Acquisition Policy, said the agency was allowing GSA’s contracting personnel to deviate from federal rules to speed payments to its small business prime contractors and prime contractors’ small business subcontractors within 15 days, instead of the usual 30. The change, said Koses, applies to all contracts and orders where GSA is the only agency making payments. It does not apply to federal supply schedule contracts or multi-agency contracts, he said.
Under the change, federal contracting officials can insert language into contracts and solicitations allowing the accelerated payments. The change sets a goal of 15 days after receiving an invoice from a small business contractor, or a prime contractor with small business subcontractors, according to the memo.
The move, said Larry Allen, managing director of the Federal Market Access Group at BDO USA, is GSA’s recognition of the new, remote, less centralized work environment and the logistics involved. In a more diffuse working environment, payments can tend to take longer, he said.
“Small businesses live and die on cash flow,” he said. If payments are delayed, they can suffer or even sink, he said.
The rule probably doesn’t to short term, one-time contracts, however, explained Allen. “It doesn’t impact contracts such as a one-time order and shipment of 1,000 laptops,” he said. “It does apply to multi-year agreements that might ship 1,000 laptops per quarter” over a longer term.”
“The CoE’s work, run out of GSA’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS) office, will speed up the GAO’s authority to operate process for its new innovation lab, launched last year to develop enhanced data analytics and emerging technologies capabilities.
The partnership will also help the lab configure “flexible, scalable, and secure computational environment that is responsive to current and future needs.”
“Today’s announcement illustrates the momentum of the CoE to deliver outcomes that drive mission effectiveness,” said TTS Director Anil Cheriyan. “Putting innovation at the core of everything we do, we’re excited to engage with GAO and provide guidance along their exciting journey.”
The CoE program also works with the Departments of Agriculture; Housing and Urban Development; Labor; the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center; the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission; and the Office of Personnel Management.
“With this latest CoE engagement, we look forward to building upon our prior work transforming federal IT to improve services to citizens,” said CoE Executive Director Bob De Luca. “Leveraging the CoE modernization approach will help GAO further its mission of helping the government save money and work more efficiently.”
“This spring, federal contractors will see a second larger iteration of the General Services Administration’s in-depth debriefing pilot program to give winners and losers of federal contracts a more full explanation of procurement decisions. “
“The agency will kick off a second phase of its IN-depth Feedback through Open Reporting Methods (INFORM) program in April, Jeff Koses, GSA’s senior procurement executive, Office of Government-wide Policy announced in a recent blog post.
The extension, he said, was made after the initial INFORM pilot launched in October 2018 with 50 test acquisitions garnered positive feedback from vendors involved. The program provides more upfront, detailed insight into the agency’s selection process and why a vendor may or may not have won a contract. The program pushes that information out to vendors, instead waiting for vendor requests for it.
The extension will involve up to 300 test acquisitions, which will allow the agency to test the process at scale.
“It’s a welcome next step,” Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council, told FCW on Feb. 13. Chvotkin elaborated in a statement issued by PSC, saying that “the INFORM pilot and similar initiatives demonstrate the value of a more meaningful dialogue between the government and industry, reduce the instances of protests, and provide contractors with necessary information to improve future offers.”
“The General Services Administration is sending out notices to vendors about changes that align their contracts with the unified contracting effort the agency is conducting to harmonize its offerings.“
“The “mass modification” notices to schedule holders marks the entry into the second phase of its effort to combine two dozen Multiple Award Schedules into a single schedule for products, services and solutions, the agency said in a Jan. 31 statement. The consolidated MAS solicitation issued last October, has a simplified format, streamlined terms and conditions, and new categories and Special Item Numbers.
GSA said the “mass mods” started going out on Jan. 30 and will align contract terms and conditions with those of the single schedule solicitation. The remaining completion phase of the consolidation is planned for the second half of 2020.
“We’re right on track with MAS Consolidation,” said GSA Administrator Emily Murphy in the statement. The single schedule, said Murphy, is key to making easier solutions for federal agencies to get and for industry to offer.
Federal agencies shouldn’t see any disruption to purchasing during the mass mod period, according to Julie Dunne, head of the Federal Acquisition Service.
“We are planning for a smooth transition and federal agencies should experience no disruption to their purchasing practices during the mass mod,” she said.”
“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.”
In a request for information released late December, the agencies asked industry for feedback on how to set up a system that could serve as a primary point of entry for security researchers warning about bugs in their internet-accessible systems.
“The Department of Homeland Security and the General Services Administration want to know what it would take to develop a cloud-based centralized vulnerability disclosure platform for the federal government.
While the platform would be managed by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS, agencies might have to kick in some of their own funding and participation would be voluntary. CISA is looking at a centralized software-as-a-service platform that can track incoming submissions, validate each report for legitimate bugs while filtering out errant ones, enable web-based communication between the reporter and agency during remediation efforts and allow agencies to create separate role-based accounts for their main organization and component agencies.
While federal civilian and military systems are often riddled with bugs, the document points out that the system could be beneficial to many agencies that will likely be starting vulnerability disclosure management from scratch.
“Most federal agencies currently lack a formal mechanism to receive information from third parties about potential security vulnerabilities on their systems,” the RFI notes. “Many agencies have no defined strategy for handling reports about such issues shared by outside parties. Only a few agencies have clearly stated that those who disclose vulnerabilities in good faith are authorized.”
The platform would also track a number of metrics around each agency’s disclosure program, such as the number of reports submitted, number of valid vulnerabilities identified and the median time needed to respond, validate and mitigate issues. Automatic alerts would be sent out to all parties as different stakeholders complete their tasks, and the web application would allow CISA to intervene in instances where the affected agency is unknown or unresponsive to a pending bug.
The RFI overlaps with a request from CISA for feedback from security researchers on a draft Binding Operational Directive that would compel civilian agencies to set up their own vulnerability disclosure programs.
Some security researchers have expressed concerns around legal protections and how easy it would be to contact and communicate with affected agencies. Over the years internal audits by the Government Accountability Office and agency inspectors general have found hundreds of security vulnerabilities and spotty patch management practices for U.S. weapons systems, airport screening systems, the electrical grid, unclassified nuclear systems and a host of other critical IT systems managed by the federal government.”
“Change is hard for everyone, and when something you rely nearly every day changes overnight. That’s really hard.
I heard the reports about slowness and glitches. So I waited a few days. And I gave it a test drive today. I’m not real happy and I’m not alone.
For me, I used FBO.gov to search for new requests for information and sources sought as well as solicitations and awards. I went there to search for specific contracts. For me, the advanced search feature was easy to use and almost intuitive.
Was it perfect? No. I wish it went back more than a year. I wish there were more connections between procurements.
I know all of us have unique information needs. Most of you probably aren’t looking for the same thing I am. I want to look at the last two or three days of postings dealing with IT, professional services and research-and-development. I also want to filter notices based on sources sought, awards, solicitations and justifications.
FBO.gov would generally provide what I was looking for. I’d find some nice news tidbits and I could track developing procurements.
Beta.Sam.Gov seems to have more features, but I can’t figure out why it has so many date choices to filter searches on. There is something called “Inactive Date”, followed by “Published Date” (I think I know what that is.) Then there is “Updated Date” and “Response/Date Offers Due.”
Narrowing my search parameters is difficult. I can’t seem to save my searches. The help function just isn’t, well, very helpful.
I’m not alone in my challenges.
One contractor complained that Beta.Sam.gov changed “Solicitation Number” to “Notification Number.” And what does that mean?
There are no push notifications yet for new opportunities or updates. This contractor called notifications “arguably the most critical feature” of FBO.gov.
That person voiced concern that we’ll see fewer procurements going through Beta.Sam.gov and moving to other means that don’t require public notification because if industry is struggling with it, then government contracting shops are as well.
Market research firm The Pulse GovCon has multiple concerns with the transition. Like Deltek and Bloomberg Government, The Pulse relies on the data from Beta.Sam.gov to track new procurements and contract actions.
Analysts at The Pulse GovCon provided us with a list of problems with the transition:
Lack of communication from the General Services Administration during the transition. “It is unclear who the owner of this is,” they said.
The API, which pulls data from the backend, is limited and doesn’t match information that you see on the front-end page.
Agencies are still being migrated, which makes identifying opportunities disjointed.
Advanced searches and saving searches are a struggle.
Frequent time outs.
I hope GSA is working to improve Beta.Sam.gov. Frankly, it makes me nervous that FBO.gov is gone and is replaced with something called Beta. You don’t replace a tried and true tool with something called Beta.
I’d like to hear what you are experiencing. If you have any tips or tricks, please share.”
“As federal procurement continues to evolve, simplifying how we purchase basic commodities will allow agencies to focus more on work that directly serves their missions,” GSA Administrator Emily Murphy said in a statement. “Federal agencies spent approximately $260 million using online portals last year, and it is critical that we use the Commercial Platforms program to better understand and manage this spend.”
The program is a requirement of Section 846 in fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. As such this initiative has been in the works for a while — a draft of this new solicitation was first posted in July. Through market research and feedback from stakeholders, in response to the draft solicitation and industry days held before, GSA has decided to “start small” in its approach to this whole e-commerce thing.
“By using a proof of concept for the Commercial Platforms program, GSA is able to start testing implementation of the program with a small group of interested agencies and utilize actual purchase and spend data to analyze results and then refine the program approach as lessons are learned,” Laura Stanton, deputy assistant commissioner at GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, wrote in a blog post in July. “This allows us to test an innovative purchasing channel while also mitigating risk before developing the next phase of the program. ”
The solicitation will be open for 30 days, GSA says. Implementation of this proof of concept, which will be done in partnership with multiple e-commerce platform providers, is expected to occur in “early 2020.”
The e-commerce platform project is a key component of the Federal Marketplace Strategy, GSA’s initiative meant to modernize the federal acquisition experience for both buyers and sellers.
GSA has kicked off the fiscal new year with a bang, both with the launch of this e-commerce solicitation as well as the on-time consolidation of its Multiple Award Schedules program, which it announced it completed Tuesday.“
“Using the General Services Administration’s (GSA) Multiple Award Schedules helps make procurement easy and efficient. GSA Schedules have been around for almost three decades.
Over the years, GSA Schedules has continued to modernize our approach to acquisition and help bring the latest commercial goods and services to the Federal marketplace, while maintaining compliance with the FAR.“
“To be a successful Contracting Officer (CO), you must have the skills to quickly acquire quality products, services, and solutions at a best-value price. Your agency’s mission depends on it. Unlike the private sector, COs must be in complete compliance with Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). The entire process—from Market Research to Post-Award—must be followed perfectly or the entire buy is in jeopardy.
With GSA Schedules, government buyers have access to more than 11,000 pre-vetted supplies and services that offer volume discount pricing.
GSA evaluates and validates potential contractor financials, catalogues, price lists, brochures, organization charts, and past performance client references – so you don’t have to. Contractors on the Schedule also agree to provide their “most favored” customer price, ensuring that your agency gets a good value when using Schedules.
GSA Advantage provides easy market research, statement of work and statement of objectives templates, as well as acquisition support. Expert online support is also available via live chat or via phone (800-488-3111) whenever questions arise.
To further streamline the procurement process, GSA’s new Order Level Materials (OLM) procedure enables miscellaneous supplies and/or services acquired in direct support of an individual task or delivery order to be placed against a Schedule contract or Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA).
Since OLMs are identified and acquired at the order level, the ordering contracting officer (OCO) is responsible for making a fair and reasonable price determination for all OLMs.
OLMs are procured under a special ordering procedure that simplifies the process for acquiring supplies and services necessary to support individual task or delivery orders placed against a Schedule contract or BPA.
“Modifications to add the new consolidated SINs will not be accepted after September 30 until sometime in mid-January 2020 after contractors have accepted the mass modification incorporating the new consolidated Schedule terms and conditions.
“GSA will transition companies with one Schedule to the new Schedule first. “
“New offers for new Schedules that have been submitted prior to September 30 but not finalized will still be reviewed and awarded. This includes the streamlined/successful legacy offers. E-mod will remain open and will not be affected by the consolidation.
In early 2020, GSA will begin the process of working with companies holding multiple Schedules. Those Schedules will be consolidated into one Schedule. GSA has indicated that it will allow companies with Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAs) off GSA Schedules to continue those schedules until the BPAs end.
On other news, the GSA Small Business GWAC Division has announced the draft solicitation for the 8(a) STARS III GWAC is out. Both industry and federal agencies are able to review and provide feedback on the content of the draft solicitation up until September 6th. Review the details by visiting FedBizOpps.
GSA is asking everyone to please spread the word!”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Barbara Kinosky Managing Partner Barbara Kinosky is the Managing Partner of Centre Law and Consulting and has more than twenty-five years of experience in all aspects of federal government contracting. Barbara is a nationally known expert on GSA and VA Schedules and the Service Contract Act, and she has served as an expert witness for federal government contracting cases.