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GSA's AI-based tool reviews contracts

An artificial-intelligence-based tool can automatically determine if an agency's solicitation on FedBizOpps complies with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The General Services Administration's Solicitation Review Tool, or SRT, will ensure federal contracts are 508 compliant, meaning that they include language requiring website content be accessible to people with disabilities, according to Marina Fox, dot-gov domain services manager at the agency.

Ensuring 508 compliance has been an issue for the federal government because of the variety of contracting practices across agencies. The language for Section 508 compliance, Fox explained to reporters after a panel on disruptive data technology at ATARC's Oct. 23 data analytics summit, can appear in many different forms in solicitations.

Human review of solicitations for compliance was expensive and time consuming, Fox said. Lawsuits challenging non-compliant websites played a big part in GSA's decision to create the compliance tool, which has been in development for about year and a half, she said. Currently, the agency is transitioning it out of the AWS cloud development sandbox to cloud.gov, and GSA aims to have SRT in production in the fall of 2019 after it gets its authority to operate.

GSA had hoped to have SRT in production in the spring of 2018, according to previous congressional testimony.

The tool uses a predictive data engine to sniff out 508 compliance language on solicitations after they're posted on FedBizOpps. If a discrepancy is found, it requires a compliance amendment be filed to that site. The tool could eventually scan a solicitation for compliance as it is being uploaded to FedBizOpps and alert the contracting officer via email if the document is out of compliance before it is posted, Fox said.

SRT could also be used for a variety of GSA regulatory compliance reviews, such as those for the Federal Risk Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), cybersecurity, Federal Identity Credential and Access Management and environmental projects, she said.

The tool, she said, has already read "thousands" of solicitations for compliance as it was being developed and tested at GSA, having started with a set of 1,000 initial selected solicitations. SRT has a 95 percent accuracy rate, according to Fox, though GSA has learned that solicitations must be completely machine readable for the tool to review them. It can't read scanned PDF files, for instance.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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