This column was originally published on Roger Waldron’s blog at The Coalition for Government Procurement and was republished here with permission from the author.
As the central procurement arm of the federal government, the General Services Administration plays a strategic role in implementing the Biden administration’s policy priorities, including, among others, supporting small businesses, green procurement, improving access to commercial innovation, and increasing domestic sourcing.
Over the coming weeks, the FAR & Beyond blog will focus on these and other key priorities and how GSA makes a difference.
GSA’s procurement programs, managed by the Federal Acquisition Service, play a critical role in supporting customer agencies, accounting for $75 billion in mission support annually. Chief among FAS’ procurement programs are the Multiple Award Schedule program (MAS), Assisted Acquisition Services, IT GWACs, OASIS, and Global Supplies and Services (GSS). These programs are complementary, bringing a full solution offering approach to GSA’s customer agencies.
A key feature among these programs is consistency in the application and implementation of core federal procurement requirements. For example, contracts and orders under these FAS programs apply, as appropriate, domestic and foreign sourcing requirements, including the Buy American Act (BAA), free trade agreements (FTAs), and the Trade Agreements Act (TAA). Needless to say, these major programs play a major role in creating opportunities for domestic products and services.
Significantly, the administration’s focus on domestic sourcing can serve as an impetus for re-examining GSA’s commercial e-commerce pilot program vis-a-vis domestic and foreign sourcing. Awarded in June 2020, the e-commerce pilot targets $6 billion (GSA’s estimated addressable market) in open market purchase card spending by the federal government. The pilot seeks to channel orders through three e-commerce platforms.
Unlike GSA’s other major procurement programs, the e-commerce pilot program has been structured in a manner that essentially creates a loophole, whereby the BAA and the TAA do not apply. As orders are limited to the Micro-Purchase Threshold and each order is considered a separate contract, GSA has structured the program so that the BAA and TAA will never apply. It is the only major federal commercial contracting program of its size and scope ($6 billion addressable market annually, according to GSA’s RFP, and potentially $18 billion over the life of the pilot) where neither the BAA nor the TAA apply. The unintended consequence of this structure, in part, is that 100% of the products purchased via the pilot could be manufactured in China. In contrast, the MAS program applies the TAA, whereby products that are made in China are ineligible for purchase.
Timing is everything. As we move towards the end of the first year of the e-commerce pilot, GSA has a wonderful opportunity now to re-examine the applicability of domestic and foreign sourcing requirements. How can, consistent with applicable law, GSA promote opportunities for domestic products in the context of e-commerce? What changes can be made to the pilot program’s framework to close the loophole and create a level playing field among GSA’s key procurement programs? How can GSA leverage e-commerce technologies/platforms to support the MAS program?
The Coalition looks forward to working with GSA and all stakeholders across the procurement community on this and other key administration priorities.