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The federal government is inching closer toward building a B2B ecommerce portal that would enable government agencies to purchase approved commercial products online.

More than a year after the General Services Administration developed a plan for a congressionally mandated ecommerce portal that would ultimately make the selling of products and services to the federal government easier and involve fewer manual procedures and less red tape for vendors, the GSA now has a timeline in place for a pilot project.

Beginning later this year, the GSA, in coordination with the Office of Management and Budget, will plan and launch a pilot—what the government calls a proof of concept—to “establish a program to procure commercial products through commercial ecommerce portals.”

Congress in 2018, as part of passing a spending bill for the U.S. Department of Defense, directed the GSA and OMB to research and develop a plan for how the Defense Department could develop and use an ecommerce portal for purchasing commercial goods.

Since the initial focus on the Pentagon discussion and planning for an ecommerce portal has morphed to include how such a portal could be used across the federal government by multiple agencies.

Despite of availablereams of public documentsthat lay out the GSA’s planning process for the portal thus far, key details have yet to be disclosed.

How much the portal will cost to build and operate is unclear is how much money a B2B portal or marketplace will save the government.

What’s also still unanswered is how many agencies will be involved, how much of the federal government’s annual spending on commercial products and services will go online and how any portal may or may not involve ecommerce companies and marketplace operators including Amazon Business.

For now, the launch of a pilot project coincides with GSA’s ongoing fact-finding and market research effort, says GSA administrator Emily Murphy.

GSA is focused on continuously improving the federal buying and selling experience through the commercial platform program as a part of our broader federal marketplace strategy,” Murphy says. “By creating a modern buying experience for commercial items, GSA will reduce the burden on small businesses and our customer agencies.”

The government expects to launch and run a portal pilot project beginning sometime in fiscal 2019 and carrying over into fiscal 2020, although exact dates have yet to be set. “[This portal] starts with the e-marketplace model for this initial proof of concept while continuing to assess opportunities to leverage the benefits of the other commercial ecommerce portal models,” GSA says.


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