GSA sees agencies buying more via online shops

As procurement experts consider the General Services Administration’s online shopping centers vital to checking prices on the Multiple Award Schedules program, agencies spent more money last year via those shops.

GSA today announced that GSA Advantage posted $558 million in sales in fiscal 2008, a 24 percent increase from fiscal 2007. According to proposals to improve the MAS program from the Multiple Award Schedule Advisory Panel online shopping through sites such as GSA Advantage could keep tabs on spending trends and pricing comparisons.

As for GSA Advantage, officials attributed the year’s growth largely to improvements to its Web site, GSAAdvantage.gov. GSA launched a new version of the site and allowed states and local governments to order cooperative purchasing and disaster-recovery products.

It also makes more products and service for sale through the site, while letting customers tailor their searches to companies that match specific socioeconomic criteria, such as minority- and veteran-owned businesses.

Also in the past year, GSA redesigned e-Buy, a Web site that allows agencies to request information for its purchases, find sources and prepare requests for proposals for products and services through the MAS program and other GSA contracts.

At its Oct. 6 meeting, the MAS panel said it would recommend that the GSA administrator gather online shopping data to learn about pricing. The panel is reviewing the schedules program to find ways to update the program and will offer the administrator suggestions on doing so.

Most notably, the panel plans to recommend the end of the price reduction clause for schedules contracts, which is in the GSA Acquisition Manual. The clause requires contractors to give the government the same discount as it gives to its most favored customers. Panelists, both government officials and industry representatives, agree that the clause is geared to a bygone era in federal purchasing. Agencies that once bought mainly products today are instead buying services.

In lieu of the clause, the panel has other ideas to keep a grip on pricing for schedules sales, such as stricter criteria for holding a competition. David Drabkin, panelist and GSA’s deputy chief acquisition officer, said on Oct. 6 that tougher requirements for competition will drive customer agencies to online sales out of convenience for an overburdened acquisition workforce.

However, Judith Nelson, a panel member and management and program analyst at GSA’s Office of Acquisition Management, questioned whether GSA Advantage and e-Buy would give the program officials what they need to ensure fair prices on schedules contracts.

“Most of the buys are not happening through GSA’s portals,” she said. Agencies are turning to their own agencies’ online shopping Web sites, she added.

In fiscal 2008, GSA created a new virtual store for the U.S. Marine Corps and the Homeland Security Department. The Advantage Spend Analysis Program, or ASAP, a centralized reporting tool designed to give authorized users access to sales and statistical data for GSA Advantage, virtual stores and e-Buy, was made available to customers this past July.

Nevertheless, the panel agreed to other ways of checking prices: gathering information and making it available to customer agencies and GSA’s own contracting officers.

With such information, “I can drive the market because I have the empirical data to say to the companies, ‘Your price is garbage,’ ” Drabkin said.

The panel plans to provide its recommendations to the GSA administrator before the year’s end.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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