Congress balks at prison plan to clothe military

A Justice Department program that employs federal prison inmates to produce goods for sale to federal agencies came under fire at a House subcommittee hearing last week for looking at the possibility of expanding its military clothing sales.

Federal Prison Industries (FPI), a division of the Bureau of Prisons that operates under the trade name Unicor, employs 20,000 federal inmates who produce $500 million a year in furniture, clothing, electronics and other products. FPI also employs 1,600 civil servants. Under federal procurement rules, agencies must buy certain products from Unicor.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Education and Workforce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, called on FPI Board Chairman Joseph Aragon to provide the subcommittee with detailed business plans on proposed FPI commerical expansions.

According to Steve Schwalb, FPI's chief operating officer, FPI does not have a specific proposal to expand its clothing market, but is simply gathering feedback on whether or not such a move would be appropriate.

"We are gathering data on the market to determine whether or not we are even going to put forward the proposal [to expand military clothing sales]," said Schwalb. Schwalb said FPI sent a letter to industry and the Small Business Administration asking for feedback on FPI's possible commercial expansion.

Hoekstra has long been a critic of FPI. At a hearing last month on the FPI's computer recycling program, Hoekstra lambasted FPI for flouting federal rules designed to limit what it can sell in commercial markets. FPI is expanding into the information technology market by refurbishing surplus government computers and selling them to the public at discount prices.

FPI officials were not asked to testify at the hearing on computer resales. According to Schwalb, the hearing last Thursday on military clothing was FPI's first and only invitation to testify before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Hoekstra introduced the Federal Prison Industries Competition in Contracting Act, H.R. 2551, in the House last year. The bill, now in House subcommittee, would require FPI to compete with industry for federal contracts.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.