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Moving Toward a Commercial Platform Proof of Concept

| GSA Blog Team
Post filed in: FAS

Phase 1 Recommendations Complete, Phase 2 Underway

By Laura J. Stanton, Assistant Commissioner, GSA FAS Office of Enterprise Strategy Management

Imagine program officials buying the products they need without layers of approval. Imagine contracting officers freed to dedicate their time to the high-dollar, high-impact actions. Imagine small businesses finding new and easy access to federal procurement opportunities. Imagine visibility around spend data to ensure we’re meeting our objectives.

The day is coming when you’ll see this reality. You’ll see it through the work being done at GSA under Section 846 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2018 directing GSA to enable “Procurement Through Commercial e-Commerce Portals.”

To help inform the “how” around this opportunity, the team dedicated to this effort actively engaged a large (and varied!) group of stakeholders. To date, we’ve posted a request for information (garnering over 250 pages of comments), engaged in direct industry dialogue, and hosted agency engagement sessions to understand concerns, opportunities, and challenges. So, what did we learn? There were two main themes: 1) maintaining the balance between government regulations and commercial terms and conditions; and 2) maximizing flexibility to ensure that we can explore all the possible flavors of business models, given how rapidly technology is changing in the e-commerce space and disrupting traditional business models.

In March 2018, with engagement feedback and research in-hand on portal-provider models, GSA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) developed a series of four recommendations as part of our Phase 1 Implementation Plan (and initial policy assessment) deliverable back to Congress. The plan offers insight into the initial thinking, approach, and timeline. The vision and strategy for the program will be laid out in the Phase 2 report due in March 2019.

What was the reasoning behind these recommendations? After listening to industry and other stakeholders, we realized that e-commerce is a rapidly evolving industry. To best serve the government, we felt that using an agile approach of a fast launch and iterating will give us the knowledge and data to effectively scale the program. The best learning can occur from getting practicable, hands-on experience.

To get to an initial rollout faster, we asked for an increase of the micro-purchase threshold (MPT) to $25,000 for only those purchases made through a GSA-approved commercial e-commerce portal. (This last piece is a key caveat that often gets overlooked.) The increased MPT recognizes the changing nature of competition in an e-commerce world. Traditionally, micro-purchases don’t require competitive quotations and are usually performed non-competitively. Using e-commerce portals will bring a whole new level of competition into this area. In addition, the data and information that we receive from transactions through this program will help us ensure that Ability One and other requirements are being met, which cannot be tracked with today’s purchase card data. Lastly, the increased MPT will allow contracting officers the ability to focus on more strategic, mission-critical work by offering program offices the ability to take advantage of the speed with which commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) purchasing can be accomplished via commercial e-commerce platforms.

With the completion of Phase 1, work is well underway on Phase 2. Over the next several months, we will be reaching out to customers, stakeholders, industry partners, and others. We will be working to design the vision and longer term program strategy. We will also define an initial rollout, by end of Fiscal Year 2019. Much of our work will be around impact assessments, data management, change management and scaling our proof of concept -- all deliverables that are called out in the legislation.

GSA is committed to providing updates throughout the various phases of this initiative and continuing the dialogue with our stakeholders. An upcoming opportunity is the second public meeting hosted by GSA and OMB, focused on the Commercial e-Commerce Portal initiative, on Thursday, June 21, from 8:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. EDT. More information regarding this event, including location, registration details and the agenda can be found in the Commercial Platform Interact group.

We’re excited for the work ahead, which has the potential to create a modernized buying experience and reduce the burden for agency partners and suppliers alike. Imagine that.