GSA plans follow-on to e-commerce platform pilot

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After 18 months of a pilot program, an acquisition platform first established by a few lines of legislation in a defense bill appears poised for growth.

The purchasing program once known as "Amazon for government" is poised to scale up, five years after its authorization and following 18 months of piloting.

In 18 months, a purchase card program that allows government buyers to conduct small-scale acquisitions – up to $10,000 -- via federal versions of existing e-commerce platforms has grown from 350 buyers across four agencies to 40,000 participants across 20 agencies, according to the General Services Administration.

GSA selected three companies for the pilot -- Amazon, Overstock and Thermo Fisher Scientific. Now, GSA is seeking feedback from current participants and other e-commerce platforms as part of a request for information to gather feedback in advance of the next phase of the online buying program. 

So far, users are responding favorably to the program, according to data shared in the RFI. Customer feedback collected during the pilot indicates high rates of customer satisfaction (90%), savings (92%) and competitive pricing (90%).

For the next phase, GSA is looking to the future. The feedback received in its customer experience surveys "underscores the need to think beyond any previously identified business models, given that they were identified more than five years ago" the RFI states. "Government purchase card holders are more interested in a given platforms' user experience, and the features on that platform to help them accomplish their mission more efficiently, as opposed to the type of platform or business model it operates."

The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act includes text requiring GSA to begin piloting new commercial models, besides those included in the current pilot. The inclusion in NDAA is no coincidence – the program was first established in the 2018 NDAA.

The RFI notes that to be considered, e-commerce platforms must be able to support government purchasing requirements such as being able to debar excluded companies, such as Chinese telecommunications firms and Russian cybersecurity vendor Kaspersky, and offering socio-economic purchasing categories to comply with requirements on buying from veteran-owned, women-owned and Black-owned businesses – among other rules.

The RFI also states that overall supply chain risk management capabilities are needed to avoid proscribed technology products and to avoid the purchase of counterfeit goods. Additionally, e-commerce platforms are asked to comment on their ability to advance current administration priorities relating to climate, diversity and U.S. manufacturing.

Responses to the RFI are due April 15.