Lawmaker seeks to open GSA schedules to states, localities

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy, wants lawmakers to reconsider the idea of opening up the General Services Administration supply schedules for technology goods and services to state and local governments. "I continue to believe that we are not allowing federal, state, and local governments the opportunity to use a good-government solution," Davis said at a hearing in May. "I intend to revisit cooperative purchasing off the GSA schedules for IT products and services." It wouldn't be technically difficult for states and localities to buy from the schedules, David Drabkin, GSA's associate administrator for acquisition policy, told Davis. But, passing legislation to allow them to do that is another matter. The 1994 Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) made the schedules available to state and local governments that wanted to use them, but a concerted lobbying effort by industries that felt threatened by the provision killed the idea. The pharmaceuticals industry played a key role in removing the schedules provision from FASA, said observers close to the legislative debate. Drug companies feared losing business from public hospitals if the facilities could buy medicines at the lower prices available to Veterans Affairs hospitals off of GSA schedules. The small-business community--particularly local resellers of fire engines--also helped squelch the provision, observers said. Municipalities traditionally pay more for those vehicles than the federal government does. Key players in the debate said fire engine resellers were afraid local governments would take their business elsewhere if they could get a better deal. Supporters of reinstating the schedules provision see it as a sure-fire way to save the government and the taxpayers money. "Cooperative purchasing was a good idea when it was first passed, and it's a good idea today," said Steve Kelman, former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy during the Clinton administration and now a professor of public management at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. "It is a fully voluntary program that simply opens up to state and local governments the option" to buy off the schedules. "In no way [is] the federal government imposing the schedules on other jurisdictions," he said. But opponents of the idea have been adamant in their opposition ever since the passage of FASA. Rep. Anne Northup, R.-Ky., led the charge against cooperative purchasing in the House and plans to fight Davis should he attempt to reintroduce the provision. Northup believes the schedules would actually harm communities' ability to get good deals on technology products. "What you're really doing is pulling the public sector buying power away from local communities," she said.
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