Legislation is needed to raise the ceiling on micropurchases and bring more competition to online purchasing, officials say.
NOTE: This article first appeared on FCW.com.
Federal procurement officials say they need help from Congress to implement an online buying plan passed in the 2018 defense bill.
Congress mandated that government buyers be able to purchase common, off-the-shelf items from commercial online portals in the most recent National Defense Authorization Act.
The General Services Administration and the Office of Management and Budget, which are charged with putting the buying scheme into practice, asked Congress for new legislation to allow the federal government more leeway as it tries to mesh consumer-focused online buying with the high-regulation environment of government purchasing.
OMB and GSA want Congress to increase the micropurchase threshold to $25,000, allow GSA to modernize competition requirements and authorize GSA to find ways to increase buying power and efficiency.
GSA and OMB also want Congress to come up with a definition of "commercial e-commerce portals" that clarifies and expands on what is in the current legislation, to allow the portal concept to grow and change in line with future business models.
The idea, Jeff Koses, a GSA senior procurement executive explained in a teleconference call with reporters on March 16, is to bring e-commerce buying capabilities for federal customers more into line with how they shop online at home.
"Look at how you buy travel over the net," he said. Consumers can buy from a number of sites, including airlines, aggregators and others. Ticket sellers and travel agencies can package and price their goods appropriately and choose which platforms they sell through.
"The nature of competition has changed," he said. With e-commerce portals, Koses said GSA is trying to bring some of the speed and efficiency of commercial e-commerce to the federal buying process.
The next phase of development is underway, said Laura Stanton, assistant commissioner, Office of Strategy Management, in GSA's Federal Acquisition Service. Phase II, she said, consists of market research and consultation with agencies and stakeholders.
That research and tweaking of the rules might also entail issuing another set of recommendations in March 2019. The agency will also think about how the new competition rules might affect other GSA buying programs, such as the multiple award schedules, Stanton said.
Phase III, which begins in fiscal 2020, will look at the impact the e-commerce portal has had on federal buying, policy, data management, as well as how the program might be scaled up.