A key member of Congress is taking aim at a General Services Administration ad campaign that touts a federal online shopping service. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., criticized a series of ads for the GSA Advantage! procurement site at a recent luncheon of the Congressional Internet Caucus. The ads, which promote GSA Advantage! as the premier federal purchasing site, use taxpayer money to help a federal agency compete against private firms offering similar online services, said Goodlatte. The GSA Advantage! site's virtual shelves hold millions of products offered by vendors that hold contracts with GSA. Using Advantage!, federal buyers with purchase cards or agency accounts can search for products and services over the Web instead of reviewing paper catalogs. They can also order online instead of calling vendors, waiting for price quotations and then placing orders. Some private sector equivalents include: e-pipeline, procurenet, and Fedcenter.com. "It's bad enough that you've got the government trying to compete with private industry," said Michelle Semones, Goodlatte's press secretary. "But to go so far as to run ads that say government and not the private sector is where you want to put business is even worse." Since the Eisenhower administration, federal policy has dictated that the government should not compete for business with its citizens, leaving commercially available services to the private sector. GSA officials would not comment on Goodlatte's criticism, but did offer to work with the congressman to resolve his concerns. Goodlatte has not contacted GSA about the ad campaign, according to Semones and spokespersons at the agency. Last year's GSA Advantage! ad campaign carried slogans such as "Copies Are Never as Good as Originals." The ads portrayed Advantage! as the best federal purchasing site and warned against imitations. GovExec.com ran a GSA ad featuring an Elvis impersonator from April through June of last year. The GSA ads may be subject to further congressional scrutiny later this spring. The House Small Business Committee plans a hearing on competition between the public and private sectors, said committee spokesman Rich Carter. "We have very large concerns with the federal government competing with the private sector," said Carter. "It is unfair competition because the government doesn't pay any taxes." Goodlatte has also asked the Small Business Committee Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform and Oversight to hold a similar hearing, said Semones. "More and more, different agencies are entering into competition with the private sector," she said, citing the IRS and Postal Service as well as GSA. Goodlatte, co-chair of the Congressional Internet Caucus, is a high-tech expert who holds a perfect voting record on issues important to the Information Technology Industry Council, an association of private IT companies.
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