GSA Takes Aim at Illicit Product Sales With ‘Robomod’ Tool

GSA is using a new software mechanism as part of a pilot program to remove unauthorized products from it supply chain, such as those under NDAA Section 889.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The General Services Administration (GSA) is piloting a new automated method using data analytics to protect its supply chain from counterfeit, fraudulent or otherwise illegitimate products.

In January, the agency began using a “robomod” process with data from the Verified Products Portal (VPP) to identify unauthorized products on Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) contracts and GSA Advantage, the online shopping and ordering service used by government agencies to purchase commercial products and services.

Launched in 2021, the VPP offers an alternative to the Letter of Supply requirement, which shows that manufacturers and their wholesalers have given a reseller permission to list its products on a GSA Schedule. Instead of the reseller contacting the manufacturer for information and then passing it along to GSA, VPP allows the manufacturer to provide the information directly to GSA.

Within VPP, manufacturers authorize suppliers at the line-item level. This allows GSA to reject the addition of products that are unauthorized and to deploy robomods, which leverage software to delete unauthorized products on the GSA Schedule.

The new pilot program extends to products banned under Section 889 of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), as well as non-Trade Agreement Act [TAA] compliant products, according to Jake Parker, senior director of government relations for the Security Industry Association (SIA).

“Anything with a China country origin is not supposed to be accepted, so this will allow GSA to find those products and actually remove them from those contracts, automatically,” Parkers says.

The new process is expected to help encourage fair competition in the federal marketplace and improve the ability of agency customers to procure commercially available off-the-shelf (COTS) products with confidence.

For systems integrators, the pilot program could be a new weapon in combatting drastically reduced prices posted by unsanctioned or otherwise disreputable suppliers, explains Lynn de Séve, president of GSA Schedules, a consulting company she founded in 1984.

“With the pilot program’s search ‘n’ remove function, maybe that will scare the bejesus out of everybody so they will stop putting on unauthorized providers,” says de Séve, who was inducted into the SSI Industry Hall of Fame in March.

Oftentimes, systems integrators face a steep uphill battle against competing suppliers that either list bottom-dwelling prices or inexpensive noncompliant wares. Lately, due to inflation, many integrators have been submitting higher price updates to help recoup rising costs, while competing sellers continue to stand pat. Some even continue to list prices that are as much as a two years old or more.

“A lot of the companies that have GSA contracts — and here is the important part — are integrators. Integrators need a higher margin because they’re providing a solution, not just selling a piece of equipment,” say de Séve. “An unauthorized distributor is just selling parts with very little margin in there. But that then impacts the integrators. They are paying employees who meet wage determination requirements in certain areas of the country. They have insurance and trucks and gas and tools. They have to have more margin, and yet their proposal is being judged against little distributors who aren’t even authorized by the manufacturers.”

According to GSA, in mid-March there were more than 351,000 products listed on the VPP and 821 authorized suppliers. GSA will inform MAS contractors once it finds inconsistencies in their supplier authorization based on data on the VPP and will give vendors 30 days to contest any findings. At the end of the one-month period, the agency will remove unauthorized offerings from the MAS contract and GSA Advantage.

The pilot program is currently focused on contracts with the highest number of identified unauthorized products. GSA says it plans to roll out the process to other contracts in the future.

“The uptake has been pretty slow because it involves a lot of information that has to be submitted, but it is definitely something that I think eventually the manufacturers are going to embrace,” says Parker.

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