Virginia Rep. Tom Davis Plans new Cooperative Purchasing Push

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) last week said he will introduce legislation this year to allow state and local governments to purchase information technology products and services from the General ServicesAdministration's federal supply schedule.

Meanwhile, opponents of cooperative purchasing have vowed to fight Davis' legislation. A measure similar to the one Davis will propose failed to pass through either chamber of Congress last year.

"I was in local government for 17 years and recognized there are tremendous savings for local governments that buy off the GSA schedule." Davis told attendees at last week's Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association-Northern Virginia Annual Forecast to Industry. "There have been some concerns raised...but I think it's agood idea to save money for everybody."

A spokesman for Davis said the congressman probably will introduce the legislation within the next two weeks. "We're still kicking it around," he said. Davis' aide said the new legislation will differ from last year's because it will focus on "a very limited class" of schedule items, which he refused to identify.

Language calling for cooperative purchasing first appeared in the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act. Opponents of the language last year successfully pushed to eliminate that section of FASA, despite the efforts of Davis and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, to retain the ability for state and local governments to purchase IT from the schedule.

Davis' spokesman said the proposed language will put proponents of cooperative purchasing on the offensive, as opposed to last year when they were forced to react to the all-out ban. Davis said last week he expects his measure to pass the House, but he said he was less certain of the outcome in the Senate. Davis added that some small businesses, as well as a few large IT companies, are likely to oppose his effort. He said officials at Gateway 2000 Inc., consistently one of the top-selling companies on GSA's IT schedule program, have expressed concern because they already maintain a high sales penetration into state and local governments.

Officials at Gateway did not respond to requests for comment on Davis'remarks.The greatest objection to the legislation is likely to come from companies that manufacture pharmaceuticals, uniforms and emergency equipment. Although Davis' language will not cover these items, spokespersons for associations representing these companies said theyfear an allowance for cooperative purchasing on IT will lead to similar exemptions for other items.

Jody Olmer, a consultant who previously led the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's efforts to ban cooperative purchasing last year, said her former constituents at the chamber foresee a domino effect if Davis' idea becomes reality. "Once cooperative purchasing is in statute for IT, it's there for the next year and the next year for someone to hook other [items] onto it," Olmer said.

Kenton Pattie, president of the National Center for Fair Competition and an opponent of cooperative purchasing, said Davis has consistently overstated the benefits of allowing state and local customers to use the GSA schedule. He said many state and local governments already have schedule-like programs in place or have already conducted competitions that have produced low prices. "I don't think there is a need for this, and I challenge [Davis] to prove there is," he said. "And he can't."

Pattie added that cooperative purchasing could be appropriate for procurements of large systems in which the federal government has performed beforehand the complex analyses and evaluations required to buy them. In such cases, state and local governments could benefit from the work done by the federal government up front.


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