States, localities could get access to GSA schedules for stimulus spending

State and local governments might soon be able to use Recovery Act funds to make purchases via the General Services Administration's multiple award schedules.

Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Wednesday he plans to introduce a bill in the coming weeks that will open the GSA schedules to cooperative purchasing. Under that approach, nonfederal entities will have access to the same goods and services federal agencies can buy from contractors.

Currently, only a handful of GSA schedules are open for cooperative purchasing. But with roughly half of all Recovery Act spending trickling down to nonfederal entities, Towns said it only makes sense to provide states access to the schedules.

"We need to create more jobs, and that is just what this stimulus bill wants to do," Towns said at the annual conference of the Coalition for Government Procurement, a trade group representing contractors.

The conference examined many of the Obama administration's initial actions in regard to federal procurement.

The cooperative purchasing announcement brought loud cheers from an audience made up mainly of GSA contractors. They likely will find a wider audience for their products and services if Towns' bill becomes law.

Towns has long been a proponent of cooperative purchasing. Last year, he co-sponsored a bill, signed into law by President Bush, allowing nonfederal governments to buy off GSA's Schedule 84, which lists law enforcement, firefighting and security products.

Cooperative purchasing also is available on GSA's Schedule 70, which offers IT equipment. Congress granted similar purchasing authority in the fiscal 2007 National Defense Authorization Act for products related to disaster recovery or terrorist attacks.

Lawmakers also recently have floated the idea of opening up the schedules for environmentally friendly purchases.

Longtime proponents of cooperative purchasing see a day when state and local governments will have access to all the schedules.

"I think the day is coming when there will be cooperative purchasing across the board," said Larry Allen, president of the procurement coalition.

Last November, GSA's then-acting administrator, James Williams, backed such a plan. Former administrator Lurita A. Doan also had lobbied for such a change.

It is not clear whether Martha Johnson, President Obama's pick to run GSA, supports the idea.

GSA is receiving $5.8 billion in stimulus funds. Roughly $5.5 billion is appropriated for the agency's Public Buildings Service, almost all of it directed at making federal buildings more energy efficient.

The remaining $300 million will go to GSA's Federal Acquisition Service to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles for the government's fleet.

Other agencies also will be spending billions of dollars in stimulus funds, some of which will be directed to GSA Schedule purchases.

Deputy Administrator Barney Brasseux said GSA has identified $40 billion to $50 billion in funding going to other agencies for which FAS contract vehicles -- including the multiple award schedules and governmentwide acquisition contracts -- can be used.

"We are making the customer aware that they can get everything they need from GSA," Brasseux said.

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