Shopping network boosts local government clout

It's conventional wisdom that technology that is complicated and expensive

for large government organizations is almost always prohibitively so for

small and midsize state and local IT shops.

The pressures of limited budgets and the need to compete for vendors' attention

for smaller, less lucrative purchases make the process more difficult for

smaller organizations. And the high cost and pace of change associated with

new technology only increase the difficulties of buying IT products and

services for county and city governments.

One possible solution to the difficulties of local IT buying was put

forth in August by the U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance (GPA).

A partnership of the National Association of Counties, the U.S. Conference

of Mayors and the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing, the GPA

has launched a purchasing program designed to give local governments an

opportunity to benefit from volume purchasing power while at the same time

streamlining the often complex process of identifying, selecting and negotiating

with vendors.

The new program began with a contract for the purchase of computers,

peripherals and services entered into by Fairfax County, Va., on behalf

of all public agencies across the United States.

Using what is known in legal terms as the joint powers or cooperative

procurement authority of the lead public agency — in this case, Fairfax

County — most other government agencies can "piggyback" on the agreement

even if they have different purchasing procedures and requirements. Most

state statutes and applicable local ordinances generally allow one government

agency to purchase from contracts that are competitively bid by another

government agency, so long as the lead agency, vendor and local agency all

agree to the arrangement.

Listing each vendor on its Web site, the GPA has made it easy for local

governments to take part in the program. To fulfill the consent requirements

and begin purchasing from individual vendors, a local agency need only print

out, sign and fax a participation certificate for a particular vendor. Participation

certificates are located on each vendor's page on the Web site (www.uscommunities.org).

Those who opt in on the contract can then purchase directly from participating

vendors, which include IBM Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Gateway Inc., Micron

Electronics Inc., CompUSA, Comark Inc. and Software Spectrum Inc.

Serving as a model for the new computer purchasing program, the GPA's

office supply contract with Office Depot resulted in savings of more than

$35 million for local governments in 1999, according to an estimate published

by the GPA.

Based in Nampa, Idaho, Micron Electronics is participating in the GPA

computer purchasing program via its Micron Government Computer Systems Inc.

(MGCSI) subsidiary.

"The U.S. Communities Alliance is leveraging the buying power of communities

nationwide," said Todd Smith, public relations manager for MGCSI. "They

are bringing together the types of vendors that government agencies need,

as they did earlier with their office supplies arrangement with Office Depot."

In addition to providing direct access to volume pricing from blue

chip vendors, the new program also allows local IT shops to benefit from

the full range of the vendors' customer support and value-added services,

Smith said. "We offer an array of beyond-the-box services, and we assign

individuals to particular agencies, so when someone at the agency has a

question, they can contact the same individual at our company, rather than

getting shuttled around from one person to another."

In Micron's case, the service options include use of the company's Connectedsupport.com

site, which features maintenance tools for software and hardware, and access

to Micron University, an online training site that features more than 300

instructor-led distance-learning courses. Micron's product offerings include

its ClientPro desktops, TransPort notebooks, and servers and peripherals.

The GPA program also holds the promise of reduced administrative costs,

as smaller public agencies avoid the often-cumbersome bidding process.

"It's a tremendous purchasing vehicle for state and local governments,"

Smith said. "Fairfax County has done the bid, so other communities can now

piggyback onto that agreement without having to do their own bidding process.

It's very exciting to see that small state and local governments are getting

the same advantages as their larger counterparts when making these kinds

of purchases."

—Walsh is a freelance writer based in Peekskill, N.Y.

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