Shopping network boosts local government clout
- By Patrick J. Walsh
- Oct 02, 2000
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
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.
"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
—Walsh is a freelance writer based in Peekskill, N.Y.