Letter to the editor

Steve Kelman's column deriding two pending small-business procurement bills in the House fails to take into account that the American taxpayer for whom he expresses such concern fundamentally wants a level playing field — in this case, a fair go at the federal marketplace for all players, large and small alike ["A pair of misguided bills," Federal Computer Week, Sept. 18].

This desire is not served well by contract bundling. Here's why:

    * Savings don't automatically flow to the government just because there are two or three contracts instead of 10 or 20. Overhead for managing large contracts and large numbers of subcontracts increases as contracts grow in size. Those increased overhead costs get passed along to the government. Has Mr. Kelman forgotten the outrage expressed in the 1980s over $400 toilet seats?

    * Bundling drives small businesses from the federal marketplace. Fewer bidders means less competition. Less competition always leads to higher prices in the long run.

    * Bundling also fundamentally reduces the control small businesses can exercise over their own future by forcing them into a subcontractor role. On large, bundled indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity and governmentwide acquisition contracts, small businesses increasingly complain that their firms are used as window dressing to win the contract but squeezed out of expected work by the primes and other team members after the contract is awarded.

Beyond price and efficiency issues, is it ultimately in the government's (and the prime's!) best interest to shrink the federal industrial base by driving thousands of small businesses out of federal contracting? There may be a price we are willing to pay for the security of greater choice.

Acknowledging procurement efficiencies instituted by Mr. Kelman during his tenure at Office of Federal Procurement Policy, we nonetheless need to remember that the federal government does not exist to maximize profit. Government must address other, important social priorities that are not served by bundling, like guaranteeing equality of opportunity.

Paul Murphy

President

Eagle Eye Publishers Inc.

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