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Commercial Platforms Initiative, and the Top-line Vision

As I mentioned in a prior Interact post, GSA intends to use Interact as a way to dialogue on key topics of interest related to the the Commercial Platform initiative and build on the themes that we discussed at the June 21 industry day. Today, I’d like to review points made during last week’s Public Meeting opening remarks by my colleague Mr. Mathew Blum, Associate Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at OMB, describing OMB and GSA’s top-line vision for the use of commercial e-commerce portals.


The top-line vision of the commercial platform’s effort, simply put, is to breathe new life into smaller dollar open-market buys and enable our workforce to use them more strategically, just as we have been working to do with prequalified buys through agency and government-wide vehicles. This approach of having both strong open-market and prequalified tools builds on the longstanding “toolbox” model. The toolbox model presumes the workforce faces many different buying situations and is best off when it has multiple tools to leverage the best buying strategy in any given situation.


For this reason, GSA and OMB view the use of e-commerce portals to improve open-market buys as being fully compatible with ongoing efforts to strengthen the use of agency and government-wide vehicles. We are simply recognizing the need for better and more modern ways to conduct open-market buys so we can pursue them efficiently and effectively when they make sense.    


How did the current need to pay extra attention to our open-market purchasing purchases arise?


Looking back historically at the early 1990’s helps to provide context. This was before acquisition reform took hold, at a time when there was considerable frustration over the challenges the government faced in keeping up with technological change. There was a need for tools that could provide much-needed agility. These challenges were well documented in the now-storied report, Computer Chaos, by then U.S. Senator William S. Cohen.


In response to this report, new authorities for open-market buys were put into place:  

  • the creation of the micro-purchase threshold, which made use of the purchase card as a buying tool possible;
  • a new “simplified acquisition threshold” that was four-times the size of the old small purchase threshold; and, simplified acquisition procedures for commercial items.  


These are all important tools, but with the exception of micro-purchases, they have been largely overshadowed by a well-documented evolution in the way we use competition in the federal marketplace. This evolution saw us move from a model that centered around one-off, winner-take-all actions to the granting of “hunting licenses” to compete against other prequalified buyers in highly streamlined competitions based on “a fair opportunity to be considered.”


Many benefits have been realized by this emphasis on interagency contracting and the category management initiative will help to ensure that the benefits of collaborative buying continue in the years to come. But, there is also good reason to ensure that agency buyers have open-market tools that are efficient and effective in getting them timely and broad access to the market.  


Open-market purchases represent an important tool for growing the industrial base – both bringing in new entrants and helping existing small businesses gain experience -- as agency-wide and government-wide solutions are rarely one-size-fits-all. There will always be occasions where open-market buys will give a better price or term and condition in fulfilling a particular requirement in a particular situation. Our managers and front-line personnel need to be armed with the right tools and data to know which path to take.

Transforming small-dollar COTS purchases will not occur overnight -- nor should it. Without question, there is still much learning to be done, which is why Congress called for a phased implementation process. We must start small, study results, and make adjustments based on what we learn. In the coming weeks, my fellow team members and I will be using Interact to share thoughts on issues our private-sector and agency stakeholders raised in connection with implementing the commercial platform initiative. From phase I recommendations to current market research efforts, technology as a disruptor, and achieving strong small business participation, there is a breadth of items to discuss and I look forward to using this forum to further a transparent and open dialogue.

Laura Stanton

Executive Program Lead, Commercial Platform

Assistant Commissioner, FAS Office of Enterprise Strategy Management


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Commercial Platforms landing page 


Commercial Platforms 101 briefing

Overview briefing of the Commercial Platforms initiative


Implementation Plan and Policy Assessment -
Phase I Deliverable to Congress (March 2018)


Market Research and Consultation

Phase II Deliverable to Congress (April 2019)


Directing Legislation:

Section 846 legislation (directing language)

Section 838 (amendment to Section 846)


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