Hill delays state, local purchasing

Conferees on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees rejected Senate bill language that would have prohibited state and local governments from buying off General Services Administration schedule contracts.

As part of a compromise agreement the committees did extend until at least December the current moratorium on cooperative purchasing. The moratorium began last year when some members of Congress expressed concern that opening the federal schedules to buying by state and local governments could hurt some small businesses.

A House Appropriations Committee staff member said both committees agreed during talks that took place in the early morning of May 21 that the cooperative purchasing issue was not one best addressed in an appropriations bill. She said the idea of cooperative purchasing originated from House and Senate authorization committees that included it in the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act.

Sources said Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.) chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee's Subcommittee on Government Management Information and Technology plans to hold hearings on the issue.

A brief section of the Senate's version of the appropriations bill would have repealed a provision within FASA calling for cooperative purchasing. The issue became contentious when industry groups began lobbying members of the House Appropriations Committee for a compromise that would have allowed state and local governments to buy information technology products and services from GSA.

Although the appropriations conferees remained deadlocked on some unrelated issues last week agreement was reached on cooperative purchasing.

The decision to reject the Senate language was greeted with relief by GSA officials and members of industry associations representing IT vendors who opposed the Senate language. Although they said they were disappointed that the moratorium will continue for all schedule contracts they said the result was preferable to a total repeal of FASA's call for cooperative purchasing.

"Obviously an extension is better than a repeal " said Ida Ustad GSA's deputy associate administrator for acquisition policy. "This is just putting the issue on hold. It's unclear what will happen at the end of [this congressional session]."

Industry officials said they had hoped Congress would have adopted alternative language that would have permitted the government to test cooperative purchasing on a limited number of schedule products including IT."I would prefer to have seen a pilot test go forward particularly in the IT area " said Larry Allen executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement. "But given the fact that the Senate was vehement about sticking to its original position [opposing cooperative purchasing] we feel fortunate the program remains alive.

"Everyone will have a chance to tell their stories before the committees " Allen added. "This gives us a chance to come back another day." Ken Salaets director of government affairs at the Information Technology Industries Council said he believes it will still be important to test cooperative purchasing.

Olga Grkavac vice president for systems integration at the Information Technology Association of America said hearings will be helpful in ferreting out the opinions of all interested parties.

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