Proposed rules to be published soon about state governments using the Federal Supply Schedules to purchase IT
The General Services Administration has asked the Federal Register to publish
GSA's set of proposed rules that would allow state governments to use the
Federal Supply Schedules to purchase information technology. GSA asked for
the rules to be published "on or about" Jan. 21.
The E-Government Act, which was approved in December, included the cooperative
However, states won't be able to make purchases through the schedules
in the same way that federal agencies do, procurement experts say. Dispute
resolution and the particular GSA contracts open to the states will differ.
When contractors have a dispute with a federal agency, they take it
to the agency's board of contract appeals or to the General Services Board
of Contract Appeals, said Jonathan Aronie, an attorney with Fried, Frank,
Harris, Shriver and Jacobson in Washington, D.C.
"This is going to be a state agreement, and the boards can't hear a
state agreement," he said. "GSA's going to have to find some creative way
to handle disputes."
Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government
Procurement, said he was disappointed that GSA didn't issue interim rules
that would take effect until final rules are approved. Instead, the agency
is publishing proposed rules that won't do anything until they become final.
"That's a little disconcerting," he said. "We had hoped these would
be interim rules. I know GSA is interested in moving this along quickly."
He said he will be interested to see if the public comment period is
a streamlined 30 days instead of the more typical 60.
Another question is which schedules will be included. Although the legislation
refers to IT purchases, the reference is "not exclusive," Allen said. GSA
could limit the states to purchasing IT, or GSA could broaden the system
to include routine office buys like copiers and fax machines.
The larger question is, will the states use the system once it's available
to them? Allen and Aronie believe states will, but not without some prodding.
"There is some ambivalence on their part about being able to buy from
the schedule contracts," Allen said. "It's going to be driven by end-user
interest." Some state agencies don't understand the GSA system well enough
to compare it to their own systems accurately, he added. Some also have
their own procurement systems that clash with GSA procedures.
"A lot of my clients for years have been getting calls from the states
wanting to purchase through the federal program," Aronie said. "There has
been a push for this for a long time."
The whole matter will no doubt take some time to work through and become
clear to everyone, Aronie added. "It really is a substantive change. Adding
an entire market to the schedule is a big thing."
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