GSA unveils e-Buy tool

The General Services Administration's Federal Supply Service Aug. 8 officially launched its revamped request-for-quotes tool, called e-Buy. Officials said the tool will increase competition by ensuring larger numbers of vendors have access to requests for quotes published by government buyers.

The e-Buy request-for-quotes tool improves how federal buyers issue RFQs to Multiple Award Schedules vendors. Previously, buyers issued RFQs to vendors via e-mail or paper, and only a select number of vendors chosen by the buyer had access to the request. Now, all vendors can view and respond to RFQs in their product or service category.

In addition, buyers can send an e-mail notice to some or all vendors informing them that an RFQ has been posted and a quote is requested.

The new e-Buy has been available since mid-June but wasn't officially announced until Aug. 8. GSA officials now "think we are ready for prime time," said Donna Bennett, commissioner of the Federal Supply Service.

E-Buy originally launched last year. It is part of GSA Advantage!, the GSA's online catalog, which provides access to more than 8,800 contracts offering more than 3 million products and services.

Angela Styles, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy in the Office of Management and Budget, said e-Buy helps ensure that all businesses get a "fair shake" in competing for federal work. "If you have a product or service that the government needs, you shouldn't have to hire a lobbyist ... to get the inside track. E-buy enables more vendors, particularly small businesses, to participate, and it implements an electronic process to increase efficiency," she said.

Federal contractors collaborated with GSA to improve e-Buy, officials said. In particular, government and industry worked together to ensure consistent definitions of products and services.

Previously, "the way we described products didn't match with industry," said Doris Marsh, GSA's e-Buy coordinator. Now, Marsh said, GSA classifies vendors using its special item numbers, making it easier for vendors to find new contracting opportunities.

"Particularly technology companies on the West Coast - they would do everything they needed to do [to get on a schedule], but they wouldn't know when there was an RFQ," Marsh said. "I think it's going to be a wonderful system, especially for small businesses. Large businesses will get more opportunities too."

The e-Buy upgrade cost about $300,000 in contractor fees, in addition to costs for GSA contract management, according to GSA. Unisys Corp. of Blue Bell, Pa., was the systems integrator. The request-for-quote tool runs using application server software from Redwood City, Calif., BroadVision Inc., "the software you find behind Home Depot and Circuit City," said Al Iagnemmo, director of GSA's E-Business Division in the Office of the Chief Information Officer.

The system also includes a search engine by Verity Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., and a database by Sybase Inc. of Dublin, Calif.

The new e-Buy has already proven that it saves contracting officers' time, Marsh said.

Using the old, paper-based system, it took Marsh 45 minutes to an hour to put out an RFQ after doing market research. Now it takes 15 minutes, she said.

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