New GSA program uses e-mail solicitations

New GSA program uses e-mail solicitations

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

Facing pressure from online auction sites, the General Services Administration this summer will launch a program to let agencies
e-mail their product requirements to a group of vendors.

The development of the E-Buy Program has been spurred by the large number of electronic-commerce sites entering the government market, many of which offer some type of online auction, GSA officials said. But they insist that
E-Buy is not an auction and that, unlike online auctions, E-Buy will not focus on price alone.

Auctions drive buying decisions away from overall best value toward purely price-based choices, GSA Federal Supply Service commissioner Frank P. Pugliese Jr. said.

The E-Buy Program seeks to adopt the advantages of auctions'potentially lower prices than what is available through Multiple-Award Schedule contracts'but is intended to foster a relationship between the buying agency and the vendors, he said.

What we need

When using E-Buy, buying agencies will select a general product type from the Universal Standard Products and Services Classification, a globally used categorization of goods. The agency then will define its unique criteria for the type of product it wants to buy.

Agencies will e-mail their requirements to vendors with GSA schedule contracts in the specified product category, said William N. Gormley, FSS assistant commissioner for acquisition.

The vendors decide whether they can meet the requirement, and agencies can negotiate with the vendors, he said.

'This is the electronic model of how it's done now,' Gormley said.

GSA officials stressed that they expect the program to encourage agencies to consider best value, which can encompass many factors, including past performance.

Initially, the E-Buy Program will include only vendors with GSA schedule contracts, Gormley said. FSS, however, is considering letting agencies submit requests to prequalified vendors outside the schedule program.

E-Buy is part of a broad upgrade to GSA Advantage, the agency's online buying site. Agency officials said they want to improve the site's search engine so users can find what they are looking for among the more than 2 million products listed.

Some vendors disagree with GSA's assertion that the program is not an auction service. E-Buy appears to be an auction under different trappings, said Larry Allen, director of the Coalition for Government Procurement, a Washington organization that has several schedule contractors among its members. E-Buy has many of the elements of online auctions, he said.

Bid deluge?

During a meeting with Gormley this month sponsored by the coalition, vendors also expressed concern that the product categories might be overly broad. There are more than 100 makers of PCs with schedule contracts, for example. So, under the E-Buy Program, an agency might receive more than 100 bids on a PC buy.

Gormley said such a situation is possible, but 'we don't think that is going to happen.' Vendors tend to respond only to proposals that they think they can win, he said.


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