GSA preps purchasing rules for states

The General Services Administration has asked the Federal Register to publish

GSA's set of proposed rules that would allow state governments to use the

Federal Supply Schedules to purchase information technology. GSA asked for

the rules to be published "on or about" Jan. 21.

The E-Government Act, which was approved in December, included the cooperative

purchasing provision.

However, states won't be able to make purchases through the schedules

in the same way that federal agencies do, procurement experts say. Dispute

resolution and the particular GSA contracts open to the states will differ.

When contractors have a dispute with a federal agency, they take it

to the agency's board of contract appeals or to the General Services Board

of Contract Appeals, said Jonathan Aronie, an attorney with Fried, Frank,

Harris, Shriver and Jacobson in Washington, D.C.

"This is going to be a state agreement, and the boards can't hear a

state agreement," he said. "GSA's going to have to find some creative way

to handle disputes."

Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government

Procurement, said he was disappointed that GSA didn't issue interim rules

that would take effect until final rules are approved. Instead, the agency

is publishing proposed rules that won't do anything until they become final.

"That's a little disconcerting," he said. "We had hoped these would

be interim rules. I know GSA is interested in moving this along quickly."

He said he will be interested to see if the public comment period is

a streamlined 30 days instead of the more typical 60.

Another question is which schedules will be included. Although the legislation

refers to IT purchases, the reference is "not exclusive," Allen said. GSA

could limit the states to purchasing IT, or GSA could broaden the system

to include routine office buys like copiers and fax machines.

The larger question is, will the states use the system once it's available

to them? Allen and Aronie believe states will, but not without some prodding.

"There is some ambivalence on their part about being able to buy from

the schedule contracts," Allen said. "It's going to be driven by end-user

interest." Some state agencies don't understand the GSA system well enough

to compare it to their own systems accurately, he added. Some also have

their own procurement systems that clash with GSA procedures.

"A lot of my clients for years have been getting calls from the states

wanting to purchase through the federal program," Aronie said. "There has

been a push for this for a long time."

The whole matter will no doubt take some time to work through and become

clear to everyone, Aronie added. "It really is a substantive change. Adding

an entire market to the schedule is a big thing."

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