DHS/FEMA/Amazon deal exposes need for MAS reform

This column was originally published on Roger Waldron’s blog at The Coalition for Government Procurement and was republished here with permission from the author.

Over the last several years, the Coalition for Government Procurement has made the case to stakeholders across government that the General Services Administration’s Multiple Award Schedules (MAS) program must keep pace with innovation and other changes in the dynamic commercial market. In doing so, the Coalition set forth the intellectual, legal and policy framework for streamlining the MAS program, putting the “commercial” back in commercial item contracting, and, thereby, increasing the government’s rapid access to innovative products, services and solutions in the commercial market.

Over the last four years, the Coalition provided analysis, recommendations and commentary regarding reform of the GSA MAS and VA MAS pricing policies, streamlining MAS contracting processes, GSA’s statutory authority for MAS and governmentwide acquisition, Other Direct Costs, Transactional Data Reporting, FASA and commercial item contracting and category management. At the same time, across government and within the MAS program, noncommercial, government-unique provisions and reporting requirements expanded, driven, in large part, by the proposed centralization of procurement through OFPP’s category management initiative.

Now comes news of a partnership relationship between the Homeland Security Department/FEMA and Amazon Business creating a centralized business account for FEMA purchase card ordering via the Amazon Business marketplace. As we understand it, under the partnership, FEMA purchase card holders will be able to use a centralized DHS Amazon Business account for certain purchases. If such is the case, this effort by FEMA is quite understandable, as FEMA, like other agencies, likely is seeking to streamline purchasing using commercial practices via an online commercial portal. At the same time, however, the situation raises some fundamental procurement policy questions:

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  • Does the partnership constitute a government endorsement of a particular online service?
    Is the partnership a contract?
  • If it is a contract, what was the process for competing/selecting the portal?
  • What market research/survey was conducted prior to the establishment of this relationship (e.g., what other products were considered)?
  • How will compliance with procurement regulations, like the hierarchy of sources, be monitored and validated?

The number of questions being raised across industry goes on. The answers to these questions are important to understanding the process by which the partnership was established and will be administered. Critically, if our understanding of this relationship is correct, the whole enterprise begs one, fundamental question: If the portal model, or any other procurement product for that matter, actually is acceptable to the government, why has the MAS, one of the largest single governmentwide contracting programs for small business, the commercial channel, through which, the government readily accesses commercial innovation, not been allowed to evolve with the commercial market?

News of this partnership further demonstrates the imperative for reform of the MAS program. Given GSA’s broad statutory and program authority for the MAS program and governmentwide acquisition, GSA is positioned uniquely to be a change agent for procurement innovation focused on reducing regulatory burdens and leveraging commercial best practices while addressing key federal procurement requirements (e.g., small business, Trade Agreements Act).

The time for procurement innovation is now. The Coalition stands ready to work with GSA, the Office of Management and Budget, DHS and any other agency to bring commercial, best-value solutions to customer agencies and the American people.


Roger Waldron is the president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, and host of Off the Shelf on Federal News Radio.