IMPAC card's not for everyone

Many contracting officers and information technology managers believe the government's
IMPAC credit card quickly gets them the latest products in small, affordable chunks.

But the card's buying limit of $2,500 lessens agency buying power, said Thomas Boswell,
acquisition team leader for the Education Department's chief information officer. Boswell
said sometimes volume buys from large contracts are cheaper, although spot pricing on
General Services Administration schedule contracts does let vendors cut prices.

Louis Irwin, a computer analyst at the Fish and Wildlife Service, relies on the IMPAC
card to outfit personnel with desktop and portable computers when they go on field
assignments on short notice. Irwin said he generally finds little difference between IMPAC
and schedule pricing.

Select government buyers can use the card for purchases up to $2,500 with a limit of
$5,000 per month. But the rules for use within an agency vary. When a buy is for more than
$2,500 but less than $10,000, Irwin said, a contracting officer at his agency can use the
card to make the buy.

Like Irwin, other IT managers said they check out GSA schedules first but go outside
when they find a better deal. Because of administrative costs vendors incur in setting up
GSA schedule contracts, as well as the 1 percent industrial funding fee GSA charges,
buying off schedule with an IMPAC card is sometimes cheaper, they said.

Catherine Larsen, an ADP coordinator with the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration, said she has used her IMPAC card to buy portable PCs from Micron
Electronics Inc. of Nampa, Idaho, and Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. of Irvine,
Calif. Micron sold directly to her, and she went to a catalog reseller for the Toshiba

Despite the advantages of the schedule and IMPAC card buys, many agency officials said
they still count on 8(a) small-business suppliers.

Charlie Lee, a database administrator at the Energy Department's Los Alamos National
Laboratory in New Mexico, said his organization recently bought a Dell Computer Corp.
Pentium Pro server for less than $5,000 through a small-business vendor, as well as a
Cobol compiler for around $3,000.

Bill Underwood, IRM director for the Federal Transit Administration, said FTA uses an
8(a) vendor for buys such as Novell NetWare 4.1 licenses and scores of Pentium PCs with
Windows 95 bought last fall.

He said he uses his IMPAC card only about once a month for small items such as copies
of the Microsoft Office suite.

The streamlined procedures "put the onus on the individual to get the best
prices," said Kim Buttleman, a computer specialist at the Geological Survey.

Buttleman plans to use her IMPAC card to buy a new desktop machine to run Microsoft
Windows NT 4.0.

John Teegarden, an information system security manager at the Army Recruiting Command
at Fort Knox, Tenn., said his organization needs speedy, reliable delivery when a network
server fails. Fort Knox has purchased servers on GSA schedule from Dell Computer Corp. and
Gateway 2000 Inc. in the past several months. He has used his IMPAC card to buy only a $29
screen-capture program.

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