GSA releases e-commerce solictiation

The e-commerce effort dubbed "Amazon for government" is getting closer to becoming reality with a draft solicitation released by the General Services Administration.

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The e-commerce effort dubbed "Amazon for government" is getting closer to becoming reality. The General Services Administration released a draft solicitation for contractors looking to supply government buyers with an e-commerce platform to obtain everyday commercial products.

Congress established the e-commerce requirement in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, and since then GSA has been working with stakeholders and the federal procurement community to spec out what the service would look like.

The draft solicitation won't be much of a surprise to anyone who has been following GSA's engagement on the platform. The plan is for multiple vendors to win awards for a "proof-of-concept" to supply e-commerce platforms for a one-year term with four option years. The e-commerce platform permits a vendor to sell its own products along with those of other vendors and will feature general purpose goods – not specialty goods like medical supplies or information technology gear -- that users of government purchase cards can buy.

GSA estimates the market for GPC purchases at $6 billion a year and noted in the solicitation that spending via GPCs on existing online portals has grown from $135 million in fiscal year 2014 to nearly $260 million in fiscal year 2018. Transactions made via GPCs are limited to the $10,000 micropurchase threshold established by GSA.

"An exciting opportunity lies ahead to create not only a modernized buying experience but also reduce the burden for agency partners and suppliers alike," said Laura Stanton, deputy assistant commissioner for the Office of Information Technology Category, Category Management, at GSA's Federal Acquisition Service. "During the initial proof of concept, GSA will encourage robust competition through the implementation of multiple e-marketplace platforms."

But the service won't look exactly like a commercial marketplace either on the surface or under the hood. E-commerce platforms serving the government will be required to keep suspended and debarred vendors off the service and track blacklists of vendors created by Congress and federal agencies. For example, Kaspersky products are a no-go, along with a list of Chinese telecommunications vendors included in the 2019 NDAA including Huawei and ZTE.

The platform will be required to include and "clearly mark" items from Unicor, the government-owned industrial and manufacturing service that uses federal inmate labor to produce a range of products. Most of Unicor's $500 million or so in annual sales are to federal agencies.

Per the authorizing statute, the e-commerce platform vendors will not be able to use government purchase activity to develop their own analytics to optimize their larger commercial business, and contractors will have to supply the government with a plan on how they will segregate government purchase data from the rest of their business. Additionally, vendors must supply the government with dashboards and with the underlying data to provide a picture of purchasing activity. Per the terms of the solicitation, the data is owned by the government.

On the buyer side, GSA intends to open the marketplace up to agencies that are interested in the service, but the proof-of-concept is open to "ad hoc government buyers" with a valid GPC. The growth of the program in the option years "will be highly dependent on agency adoption," the solicitation notes.