GSA proposes charging for some FedBizOpps features

The General Services Administration wants to charge subscribers to its FedBizOpps service an annual fee for using its special e-mail notification features.

The fee, which would be no more than $30, would be charged beginning Oct. 1. It would be charged only for subscribers who sign up to receive all notices from selected organizations and product service classifications, or to receive all procurement notices on the site.

Federal Business Opportunities (FedBizOpps) is the governmentwide portal where vendors can access information about government business opportunities greater than $25,000. GSA manages the FedBizOpps.gov site and provides its added-value e-mail notification service to the public for free.

Users would still be able to register to receive all e-mail notices related to a specific solicitation at no charge. Beyond e-mail notifications, the public would still receive free access to all postings on the FedBizOpps Web site and be able to download all synopses for free.

A proposed rule concerning the fee was published in the Federal Register Jan. 9. Comments are due by Feb. 10 for consideration in the formulation of a final rule. Comments should be sent via e-mail to gsarcase.2002-g501@gsa.gov, and GSAR case 2002-G501 should be cited in all correspondence related to this issue.

Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said the group believes the cost of FedBizOpps is more appropriately paid by the agencies that use it, rather than vendors. The Washington coalition is a nonprofit association of Federal Supply Schedules contractors.

"Though we're talking here about charging contractors for special services only, it still sets a dangerous precedent," Allen said. "Ultimately, increasing costs on contractors to participate in the federal market will do two things. First, it will reduce competition, especially among small firms. Second, it will drive up the federal government's own costs as contractors seek to recoup their expenses. It would be better in the long run if the agencies gave FedBizOpps the financial support it needs up front."

GSA's Federal Supply Service funded most of the development and operation of FedBizOpps in fiscal 2002. David Drabkin, GSA's senior procurement executive, said the FSS funding for the portal development and operations will end at the close of fiscal 2003, and was never intended to be annual operating cost to FSS.

The service costs about $4.7 million to operate annually. Agency contributions from fluctuate year to year according to the number of transactions each agency submits to FedBizOpps. Agencies will probably contribute between $800,000 and $1.2 million for fiscal 2004, Drabkin said.

With a $30 fee, GSA expects to collect about $3 million annually, Drabkin said. About 250,000 people are using the special e-mail notification features. Drabkin said GSA officials think half or more of them may stop using the service after the fee is instituted, but officials will have a better idea of the fee's impact on use of the e-mail service after public comments on the rule are submitted.

"The goal is to simply recover the cost of operations," Drabkin said. "Any excess funds would be used for upgrades to the system and to cover the following year's cost. If excess were generated, our plan at the moment would be to reduce the cost for the following year. The one thing that cannot happen is that we collect too little money for the operation of the system."

GSA officials do not foresee the fee being higher than $30, and it could be lower, Drabkin said.

FedBizOpps predecessor, the Government Printing Office's Commerce Business Daily, or CBDNet, charged subscribers a fee of $11,500 per year for its daily electronic file of synopses, and $316 per year for their publication, according to GSA. FedBizOpps eliminated these charges. GPOs CBDNet did not provide value-added e-mail notification to vendors.

"It is important to note that many vendors are paying many times the $30 fee for private services," Drabkin said. "These services do not provide the real-time information that the FBO service provides. It is also important to note that when CBD was published in paper, industry had to purchase a service from CBD annually in order to get the information."

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