Contractor group pushes state, local access to GSA schedules

Proposal would let lower levels of government use pre-negotiated homeland security contracts.

State and local governments should have access to General Services Administration schedules for homeland security and disaster-related purchases, a private sector advisory group said Friday.

States and localities should be able to take advantage of the federal government's buying power, the group said, because they bear a significant share of the burden of responding to homeland security threats and natural disasters.

Since passage of the 2002 E-Government Act, state and local governments have had access to the GSA Federal Supply Schedules for information technology purchases. They've bought almost $100 million in IT goods and services off the schedules since May 2003, according to GSA.

The Acquisition Reform Working Group, a coalition of 11 organizations representing companies active in federal contracting, made the recommendation as part of a package of 2006 legislative proposals.

"ARWG believes that these units of local government should have the authority to voluntarily take advantage of all of the buying leverage that the federal government already has achieved through the GSA schedules program," the reform proposal stated.

Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president of the Professional Services Council, one of the groups behind the proposal, said the recommendation grew in part out of the post-Katrina contracting environment. Under Federal Emergency Management Agency procedures, state and local governments have the bulk of purchasing responsibility, but they don't have access to the same contract schedules that federal agencies do.

The GSA schedules would provide a convenient listing of potential contractors for state and local agencies, according to Chvotkin. The pricing information contained in the schedules, representing a ceiling from which governments might choose to negotiate down, could be a useful tool for market research, he said.

Chvotkin said the loudest opposition to cooperative purchasing has been from the pharmaceutical industry, which offers better prices to the federal government than it does to states. He said IT purchases were a good place to lay the groundwork for the arrangement in 2002, and is hopeful of finding support in Congress to incrementally expand on that now.

Robert White, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., said a bill Davis sponsored in Congress last year, the Acquisition Systems Improvement Act, already contains language that expands cooperative purchasing to address acquisitions related to a terrorist attack. Adding the industry groups' disaster-related language is "certainly something that we would consider carefully," White said.

A GSA spokesman said the agency does not comment on legislative proposals.

Angela Styles, former head of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and now a government contracts attorney at the Washington law firm Miller and Chevalier, has mixed opinions on expanding cooperative purchasing arrangements.

"GSA's focus should be on the federal government, and they're obviously having some trouble with that," she said, referring to declining revenues and possible personnel cuts. "If they get it right on the federal government side, then absolutely, it makes sense to open up to cooperative purchasing [with state and local governments]."