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|Website||GSA Advantage Website|
GSA Advantage is an online shopping and ordering service created within the GSA organization. Its mission is to provide a streamlined, efficient purchasing portal for federal agencies to acquire the goods and services needed. The purpose in creating this service was threefold. First to reduce the time, cost and bureaucracy in purchasing goods and services, second to ensure the lowest possible price was obtained and third is to verify contractors are qualified to sell to the federal government.
The government’s description of the service is as stated: “Is the Federal Government’s premier online shopping superstore. With online access to millions of commercial products and services, GSA Advantage! ensures you are getting GSA-negotiated prices from GSA-approved sources.”
The service is intended to benefit any federal agency that has access to the GSA Advantage program however two federal acts have allowed State and local governments to access and purchase from this service. Section 833 of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act authorizes the Administrator of General Services to provide State and local governments the use of GSA’s Federal Supply Schedules for the purchase of products and services to be used to facilitate recovery from a major disaster, terrorism or nuclear, biological, chemical, or radiological attack. Further Section 211 of the E-Government Act of 2002 authorized GSA sales of IT products and services to State & Local Governments through the introduction of Cooperative Purchasing.
Purchasing agencies access the goods and services available in GSA Advantage through their website,GSA Advantage Website . The site markets the products or services much like any other online merchant. The product and services can be shopped by category, supplier or descriptive terms. The site provides detailed product information including the GSA negotiated price for each item. This information is available to the public and requires no preauthorization to view. The site requires an agency to “Sign in” with a user created user name and password to initiate a purchase.
The site lists the items and services provided under GSA Advantage into the following condensed categories. Each category can represent thousands of products:
- Building & Industrial
- Furniture & Furnishings
- Cleaning & Chemicals
- IT Solutions & Electronics
- Laboratory, Cleaning, Medical
- Law Enforcement, Fire, Security
- Office Solutions
- Recreational & Apparel
- Tools, Hardware, Machinery
- Vehicles, Water Craft
Once a purchase has been initiated by a buyer the system generates an email order which is sent to the supplier. The supplier must then log on to the site and either accept or reject the order. All detailed information needed to process the order is provided including payment information which is usually made with a government issued "Smart Pay" credit card. Once the item(s) have shipped, the supplier may log on to the site and confirm the order has shipped. The transaction is then complete. No communication with the actual buyer is needed. The simplicity of the transaction is not coincidence but rather by design. The intensive negotiation and approval process standardizes all the variables of a purchase. The variables addressed during the negotiation of each contract include: Discounts, payment terms, shipping costs and methods, warranties, returns, replacements and support.
The initial contract term with a supplier is 5 years with the option of renewal for a total of a 20-year period. Because of the contracts length of time and the potential large purchasing a supplier may receive, the review and approval process is quite intensive. To administer this program GSA maintains a large workforce of negotiators, contract administrators and support representatives.
Winning a GSA advantage contract requires commitment and determination from the supplier. The average time period for a supplier to be accepted and receive a GSA contract is 12-15 months. The lengthy application processing time is not the only challenge a supplier faces. First a considerable amount of resources and time may be required just to get to the application submission stage. Before a supplier can submit an application they must first register and be accepted in the Online Representations and Certifications Applications (ORCA) and Central Contractors Registration (CCR) programs. The supplier must also be registered with Dun & Bradstreet and have an Opens Ratings Report generated, for example. The latter is a past-performance evaluation, wherein the supplier's existing customers are contacted and asked to complete an extensive review of the supplier’s performance. This report compiles the customer reviews into an overall-performance factor used to evaluate the stability and capabilities of the supplier. All of the above registrations and reports are required before a supplier can even submit a GSA contract application.
The application itself must follow exact government guidelines but is written in the form of a “Best Offer” by the supplier. The supplier must detail the services and products they wish to offer, any favorable terms they are offering and details of any preferred customer services they are willing to provide.
Process and determination
Once all the application materials are submitted the “Offer” as the government refers to it is assigned to a contract negotiator. The negotiator begins the process by reviewing and assessing the submission paperwork for accuracy and compliance. While the complete process is not public information, it is apparent that the review is extensive and detailed. The contract negotiator addresses each of the following:
- The paperwork meets all submission requirements
- The supplier is viable and stable
- The supplier qualifies to sell products to the government*
- The products qualify to be purchased by a federal agency*
- The pricing is favorable and better than any other offered by the supplier
- The supplier is responsive and the approved products are available for the term of the contract.
During this process the negotiator maybe in contact with the suppler to clarify details or ask for supporting documents and information. Long periods of time may pass with no communication with the negotiator. If the contract negotiator makes the determination to enter into final negotiations with the supplier, a meeting is scheduled. This is usually conducted over the phone and takes 1-2 hours. The negotiators main focus during the first part of this meeting is to verify all the detailed terms with the supplier and confirm a mutual understanding of the suppliers "Offer". During this meeting the negotiator may ask for additional discounts or other favorable terms which will benefit the government. Often the supplier is aware this is the last consideration before accepting or rejecting their offer. The negotiator often generates further concessions or savings the supplier is willing to provide but had not yet offered. After the conclusion of this meeting the contract negotiator makes a final decision whether to award the supplier a contract or not.
The GSA Advantage program is self-funded. The organization collects an Industrial Funding Fee (IFF) each quarter from the participating suppliers. This fee, calculated at .75% of the total purchasing the program generated for the supplier is collected by the supplier and sent back to the GSA program. Although the supplier is responsible for reporting and paying this self-funding fee, it is the government agencies that actually pay the fee. Suppliers are instructed to add this IFF cost to the total sale price of each order placed by the government. This process is similar in the way many States charge and collect sales tax.
- Section 833 John Warner National Defense Authorization Act
- State & Local Government Purchasing
- ORCA- Online Representations and certifications Application
- Dun & Bradstreet Website
- Central Contractors Registration