Users blast new federal contracting website amid ongoing transition

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A trade association comprised of more than 400 small, midsize and large businesses that deal with federal agencies is making its frustration with the government’s new contracting website known.

The Professional Services Council — which includes members like Amazon Web Services, Cisco Systems and Microsoft — sent a letter to the General Services Administration on Friday recommending improvements to beta.SAM.gov.

Chief among PSC members’ concerns are hangups in saving user authentication, problems with creating and saving automatic searches, irrelevant email updates and issues with the site design and its mobile display.

“Some of the search capabilities of the new platform are probably the most significant because companies use them all the time,” Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president of PSC, told FedScoop about the ability to create and save automatic searches. That capability — which allows users to get email alerts when a search produced a result — was a popular feature on the now-defunct FedBizOpps.gov.

The transition probably made it easier for the government to search contracts, Chvotkin added, but it’s now harder for companies to identify, track and assess opportunities.

GSA was “upfront” about the fact that saved searches would be lost in the transition. Users could rebuild and save the same searches on the new SAM site, but that could be a lot of work for some. There were thousands of saved searches among PSC members alone, Chvotkin said. Not until mid-January, when complaints about glitches from its members persisted, did PSC informally complain to GSA.

Then came Friday’s letter.

“GSA appreciates that the Professional Services Council shared the views of some members regarding the migration of FBO.gov to beta.SAM.gov, as we take the feedback of all users seriously,” said a spokesperson for GSA. “The agency’s Integrated Award Environment [IAE] team welcomes the opportunity to work with the council as it conducts a careful review of the input shared with GSA in early February.”

PSC’s letter contains anonymous comments from 17 companies of all sizes.

One company complained small businesses have been forced to buy commercial software — costing tens of thousands of dollars — for search capabilities comparable to FedBizOpps’. Overhead costs to government will rise as a result, according to the letter.

GSA is in the process of transitioning the Federal Procurement Data System’s reports function to beta.SAM.gov, the system being one of 10 merging into the IAE. Another company worried about FPDS’s fate because they use the system daily.

“I frankly don’t know why these systems need to be combined into one platform. Is there an award for the worst government system launch ever?” reads the comment. “Truly, the very best thing GSA could do at this point is to put FBO.gov back up.”

The letter is addressed to Julie Dunne, who took over as commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service when Alan Thomas resigned in October.

Chvotkin said he didn’t think the leadership change was to blame for issues with the transition to beta.SAM.gov, adding Dunne “hasn’t missed a beat.”

“I think she’s doing a great job as the commissioner,” he said.

GSA reported in December it was receiving about 200 comments daily containing questions and issues via the feedback tool on beta.SAM.gov. PSC’s letter didn’t come as a surprise, Chvotkin said.

While GSA questioned some of PSC’s characterizations of the issues, “they were very responsive,” he said.

PSC isn’t asking for changes overnight, and Chvotkin said he didn’t know GSA’s development cycle — “a couple of weeks, maybe a few months in, maybe longer.”

It’s possible GSA doesn’t find some of PSC’s requested changes worth making.

“We’re big boys,” Chvotkin said. “We can take thoughtful conversation and dialogue about why they’re not making a change.”

-In this Story-

Alan Chvotkin, beta.SAM.gov, FedBizOpps, Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS), General Services Administration (GSA), Julie Dunne, Professional Services Council
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