How – or do we – ensure compliance with government laws like Buy American and Trade Agreements Act?  Who has privity of contract with the government, the portal or the supplier selling through it?  There seem to be so many slightly different models, how do we decide?  These were among the top government questions at the January 9th GSA public meeting held to receive input on how the agency should move ahead with implementing Section 846 of the FY’18 defense authorization bill that called for the use of commercial e-commerce portals for federal commercial acquisition.  Some speakers encouraged GSA to use software-based solutions to ensure that portal acquisitions comply with unique government rules.  At least two panelists, though, said that the rules should not apply and that the government should buy from commercial portals exactly like a commercial buyer would. Notions of privity of contract and how GSA Schedule suppliers will interface with the portals were acknowledged as good questions, but ones to which there are no current answers.  On the topic of how to decide, several industry speakers seemed to be telling GSA “don’t”.  Allowing all interested portals that meet whatever rules the government agrees upon to participate will help drive competition and choice.

GSA must devise a framework on how to proceed and how it might handle issues like the applicability of government unique rules soon.  While they are hard at work, individual agencies continue to make expanded use of commercial portals on their own.  Contractors may want to consider continued participation in the GSA process, while seeking ways to ensure that their offerings are increasingly available via the on-line marketplace now.