Agencies urged to accept orders from state, local buyers

Anticipating that the General Services Administration will soon open its multiple-award schedules to state and local governments vendors are urging federal agencies that sponsor other governmentwide contracts also to accept orders from lower-level governments.

At least a few agencies are considering opening their pacts hoping that if they are available to a bigger pool of buyers agencies can negotiate better prices for their customers within the agency.

The question of opening federal contracts to state and local governments has arisen because the General Accounting Office is preparing to issue a report within the next few weeks that is expected to endorse letting lower governments buy information technology from the GSA schedule. The Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 authorized such sales but Congress put the program on hold last February after small businesses in industries other than IT complained it would disrupt their markets.

But before agencies hang out shingles some questions must be answered. According to federal officials and procurement experts arranging transactions between agencies and their state and local counterparts is likely to be complicated.

State and local purchases on federal contracts may not be legal and if they are agencies may still have to rewrite contracts to give vendors the right to sell to new customers.

"I would not be at all surprised to see some statutory language is needed " said M. Miles Matthews a senior management counsel with the Justice Department and the point person for DOJ's Information Technology Support Services contract. He said DOJ is "interested" in opening ITSS to state and local buyers but would have to incorporate new provisions in the contract to allow it.

Carl Peckinpaugh a lawyer with Winston and Strawn Washington D.C. and a Federal Computer Week columnist said agencies need to consult their authorizing statutes to determine if selling to nonfederal customers is allowed. "You have to find a specific grant of authority " he said.

The Transportation Department has asked its lawyers to informally look into similar questions but none have rendered an official opinion said Dell Berry manager of the special project office for the services-oriented Information Technology Omnibus Procurement. "We're not equipped and we're not attempting from a legal standpoint to give the definitive answer on these questions " he said. "What we're trying to do is contribute to the discussion."

Several state procurement officials could not be contacted for comment.

Vendors are eager to expand the contracts. Terry Kelly president of Terry Kelly Associates Inc. said the private sector has pressed the issue recently partly because the flexibility federal agencies have to buy from any governmentwide contract means companies cannot count as much on a specific number of sales from these vehicles. "Here they could have another contracting vehicle that they could sell against."

Maury Sweetin vice president of OAO Corp.'s Facilities Management Services Division said he would like to offer services to state and local customers through his company's contract with the National Institutes of Health. In particular he said these buyers need help updating their systems for the Year 2000 one of the specialties of vendors on NIH's Chief Information Officer Solutions and Partners program.

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