House committee: Is GSA overcharging customers?

House appropriators are questioning whether the General Services Administration is overcharging its customers after denying the Bush administration’s budget request to use surplus funds for e-government initiatives.

In the fiscal 2008 budget proposal, President Bush included a provision that would allow the Office of Management and Budget to use a $40 million surplus in the Acquisition Services Fund to finance its e-government initiatives.

Because of the surplus, the House Appropriations Committee wants GSA to review its pricing structure and report to the committee within 120 days if the bill becomes law.

Bush has already threatened to veto the bill.

GSA may have a surplus in one area of business, but it is suffering in others. Its assisted-acquisition services may lose as much as $70 million this fiscal year — an amount that continues to increase.

Experts say a move by Congress to have GSA check its fees only reinforces what the agency already does.

Neal Fox, former assistant commissioner for acquisition in GSA’s now-defunct Federal Supply Service, said the agency regulates its fee structure and within the past several years has decreased its schedule's fees from 1 percent to 0.75 percent.

“The bottom is line is [that] GSA is struggling to remain solvent,” Fox said, and any attempt to decrease funds will further exacerbate the overall losses.

In his budget request, the president also requested $5 million for e-government initiatives. The appropriations committee recommended $2.97 million for the e-government fund.

“The committee refuses to relinquish oversight of the development and procurement of information technology projects of the various agencies under its jurisdiction,” the committee said in its report accompanying the House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act.

The Bush administration disagrees with the committee’s position.

“As required by the Clinger-Cohen Act and the E-Government Act, agencies are working together as one federal enterprise to reduce duplicative information technology investments while improving service delivery and lowering overall costs,” said a statement of administration policy.

Budget documents state that e-government initiatives are projects that will use the Internet or other electronic methods for easier access to federal information, services and business opportunities.

The House is debating the bill.

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