Wholesaler Trade Group Reacts to GSA Online COTS Procurement Report

March 19, 2018

Washington, DC (March 19, 2018) … The National Association of Wholesalers-Distributors (NAW) has urged the Congress and the General Services Administration (GSA) to ensure that “an unambiguous commitment to open, vigorous competition” be integrated into GSA-recommended statutory and administrative changes to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) federal procurement through e-commerce portals.

The recommended changes were presented by GSA on March 15 in its initial report to Congress for the implementation of a program established by Section 846 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (PL 115-91).

“NAW welcomes the release of GSA’s Phase I implementation plan and the proposed statutory changes that accompany it” said Jim Anderson, Vice President – Government Relations for NAW, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association representing wholesaler-distributors of all sizes and in all lines of trade, many of which are federal government COTS suppliers. He said, “NAW also applauds the fundamental goals of Sec. 846 to improve the efficiency of the COTS acquisition process.  Properly executed, this would lower costs for both federal agencies and their suppliers and bring federal COTS procurement into sync with 21st century commercial best practices.”

Anderson praised the GSA for the “collaborative way the agency has approached the challenging task of preparing an implementation plan for restructuring the manner in which the federal government acquires $50 billion in COTS products annually. “GSA Administrator Emily Murphy’s commitment to continue to work with industry partners among others as this process evolves is essential,” Anderson said.

At the same time, Anderson expressed concern about the potential negative effect the proposed legislative changes could have on competition. He urged that “careful scrutiny” be given to the GSA report and the agency’s recommended statutory changes by the House and Senate Armed Services, Governmental Affairs, and Small Business Committees as the fiscal year 2019 defense authorization bill makes its way through the legislative process.

Anderson continued, “As has been the case since online COTS procurement legislation made its way through Congress last year, NAW and our member companies which are direct stakeholders in this will continue to endeavor to be constructive contributors to an implementation process that gets this done correctly. NAW members which do business with the government are interested in continuing to provide federal agencies with quality products at fair prices while complying with rules designed to ensure procurement integrity.  NAW members recognize the desirability of a streamlined government acquisition process that values robust competition and maintains appropriate legal, regulatory, and ethical protections for the government, taxpayers, and vendors.”

Anderson identified several issues that continue to require the careful and sustained attention of policymakers and stakeholders throughout the implementation process. These include, as required by Section 846, the critical need to select products and product categories suitable for purchase on commercial e-commerce portals and to prevent the use of the program to purchase items that may pose undue risks for the Federal supply chain such as health-related items.  Data security, access to transactional data by marketplace owners, and national security are other critical elements to be addressed.  But first and foremost is competition.  “We are concerned about how commercial e-commerce portal providers will compete.  This includes access to e-commerce marketplaces by commercial enterprises wishing to compete, and the extent to which compliant online sites may participate as one of the ‘multiple contracts with multiple e-commerce portal providers’ as defined in Section 846 (a).  We embrace and urge that a commitment to open, vigorous and fair competition that promotes wide opportunities to serve the federal government pervade any action and will strongly oppose any administrative or legislative efforts to the contrary,” Anderson concluded.