Senator criticizes GSA plans to cut office supply program

A group of lawmakers, led by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., says the move would hurt small companies and hamper disaster recovery efforts.

The chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee early this week urged the General Services Administration to hold off on eliminating part of a purchasing program that has high participation from small businesses.

In a letter Monday to GSA Administrator Lurita Doan, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., asked the agency to postpone plans to drop office supplies from its Global Supply stock program, a one-stop source for buying everything from firefighting equipment to furniture. Nearly 80 percent of government purchases of office supplies through this program are directed to small businesses, the letter stated.

A decision to end the program would prompt agencies to buy supplies from a handful of large companies, Kerry said. He added he is concerned about the impact the decision will have on emergency readiness capabilities and the government's ability to react quickly to major disasters.

"It's unacceptable for the administration to abandon innovative and effective small businesses in favor of a handful of big businesses," Kerry said in a statement. "Before GSA eliminates these contracts, we need to know exactly what it means, economically and operationally, for the small firms that have been doing business with the federal government."

Kerry's letter also was signed by Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship ranking member Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Reps. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, and Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, the ranking member.

The letter noted that lawmakers will ask the Government Accountability Office to review the consequences of the decision since the program creates a "vital and readily accessible resource" to agencies in times of emergency.

The lawmakers asked GSA confirm within 30 days of receiving the letter that the agency has suspended any efforts to change the stock program until the matter is reviewed by GAO.

Doan, a former small business owner who has urged GSA officials to focus on the benefits small businesses can provide to government agencies, did not respond to requests for comment.

Joe Jeu, assistant commissioner of GSA's Federal Acquisition Service Office of General Supplies and Services, said in a statement that the agency welcomes the chance to meet with lawmakers to understand and respond to any concerns.

"GSA is looking to provide best value to other federal agencies and to the taxpayer in meeting their needs for office supplies in terms of price, quality and delivery time," Jeu said. "GSA can do so by making office products that are readily available on the commercial market available through direct delivery from the vendor, a model that GSA has utilized to some extent for years."

The move will save money, and will better support the missions of federal agencies, Jeu said. Other products that GSA provides in support of national readiness and emergency response will remain available and in stock at GSA distribution centers, he said.