GSA redesigns e-Buy to simplify schedule buys, spur competition

If multiple-award schedules don't generate enough competition, then the General Services Administration will bring competition to them. GSA today officially relaunched its e-Buy portal that will let contracting officers and vendors interact more easily by putting the entire request-for-quotes process online.

Congress and the General Accounting Office have criticized agencies'especially the Defense Department'for receiving too few bids on schedule purchases. DOD's inspector general found that contracting officers award too many contracts on a sole-source basis, instead of receiving multiple quotes.

E-Buy, which was launched in June 2001 as a part of GSA Advantage, gives contracting officers the ability to more clearly list a closing date, attach a statement of work in multiple file formats, and outline performance and evaluation criteria in the RFQ. Agency buyers also can search for and e-mail the vendors they want to respond to the RFQ. And vendors now can search a listing of opportunities by special item number.

GSA spent about $300,000 for the redesign, for which it hired Unisys Corp.

'When e-Buy went live last year, we recognized it would be a work in progress,' said Donna Bennett, commissioner of GSA's Federal Supply Service, which runs GSA Advantage. 'The new portal accomplishes our goals, which are to assist agencies in vendor research, give procurements better accountability and do all of this in a paperless environment.'

While Bennett said the sole-source criticism was not a reason for improving e-Buy, other government officials said this would improve competition.

'This addresses a lot of the anti-competitive concern,' said Angela Styles, Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator. 'This kind of transparency affects the entire schedule program because vendors can see what is out there.'

Since the site went live June 15, 300 RFQs went out to an average of 10 vendors per opportunity, said Nancy Goode, director of the Office of Acquisition Operations and E-commerce GSA's Office of Acquisition.

GSA also improved the way vendors are described and categorized. Under the old system, GSA used United Nations Specialized Product Service categories, or UNSPECs, and the vendor had to register under the appropriate category based on their own research. Now vendors are classified under their special item numbers that GSA assigns them when it awards the vendors a schedule contract.

'There was a big disconnect between the vendors and the buyers,' said Doris Marsh, GSA's e-Buy coordinator. 'Contracting officers are more familiar with SINs and it is easier to use.'

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