E-gov bill offers state and local buying

A provision in the federal electronic government bill that passed Congress last week will allow state and local governments for the first time to buy information technology supplies and services off the Federal Supply Schedules.

The provision was tucked into the Electronic Government Act, which on Nov. 15 won approval in the House and Senate and now is on the way to the White House for the president's signature. The measure would create an Office of E-Government run by an administrator, much like e-government chief Mark Forman is doing now. It also would provide $345 million over four years to develop e-government.

But the legislation also included some major procurement reforms pushed by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee, including one that allows state and local governments to buy IT services from the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Schedules.

Known as "cooperative purchasing," Davis spokesman Dave Marin said the e-gov transformation cannot happen without state and local governments.

"Cooperative purchasing is an invaluable tool that gives state and locals access to contracting vehicles that let them acquire the latest IT products and services. It provides them with access to the top IT vendors in the world," Marin said.

Currently, some contractors do not work with state and local governments because they view it as the "Wild West," Marin said. "This provision eliminates the barrier."

The beauty of the provision is that it will "greatly facilitate acquisition of IT at the state and local government level," said Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement, a Washington, D.C., industry group.

"The ability to buy off the Federal Supply Schedules is a nice thing to have. It's a good option," Allen said.

Nevertheless, he said the verdict from the states is still out on whether they would like the option. Some states, in fact, require that all purchases come from businesses within their borders.

Others, like North Carolina, have found that the federal schedules often "do not represent the best value."

"Over time, our competitive bidding process has demonstrated that we can get better prices," said John Leaston, North Carolina's state purchasing officer.

The e-gov bill also includes provisions for limited share-in-savings IT contracts that would allow contracts to be paid from the savings realized by the government from efficient contracts.

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