Congress, GSA to delay cooperative MAS pilot

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) may introduce a bill to make the General Services
Administration's MAS program a separate and quasi-government agency akin to the Postal
Service.


Administration officials had been negotiating with House and Senate leaders to let
GSA's Federal Supply Service launch the cooperative purchasing pilot later this summer
solely for the information technology schedule contracts. Originally, FSS officials
planned to open its entire stable of MAS contracts to state and local buyers.


Congress last year had placed a moratorium on the pilot until August and called for a
General Accounting Office review.


GAO, in a report earlier this year, said there were no reasons to delay the project
further [GCN, March 3, Page 1].


But now Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), chairman of the Senate Small Business
Committee, is trying to kill the plan altogether.


He tacked language on the Senate's fiscal 1997 supplemental appropriations bill that
would overturn the 1994 law that approved the pilot.


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce backed Bond's repeal measure, saying that cooperative
purchasing would harm small businesses. But GAO's report said opening MAS to state and
local governments would have little impact on small businesses and that there was no way
to predict state and local MAS sales.


Davis said no one had complained about cooperative purchasing's impact on computer
contracts, so the White House and Congress tried to carve out a special IT buying pilot.


But a last-minute White House request to include an unrelated AIDS medication provision
further complicated talks, and now cooperative purchasing will likely be postponed until
the start of the next Congress.


"It's now in conference and looks like the August date will be moved to December,
and we'll hold hearings. I hope to see the IT program go into effect at that time,"
Davis said at a fiscal 1998 IT budget briefing by Federal Sources Inc. of McLean, Va.


As for the future of the MAS program, Davis said transforming FSS into a government
cooperative business venture is a good way to capitalize on the agency's governmentwide
buying power while further streamlining federal procurement operations.


Former GSA administrator Roger Johnson had similar notions when he called for an
independent business review of all administration activities.


Although some in Congress remain wary of FSS' aggressive sales strategy, Davis said the
agency's schedule innovations have helped save GSA from being thrown on the federal
computing scrap heap along with the Brooks Act.


"FSS made the agency the primary acquisition vehicle because it offers customer
flexibility, good prices and ease of purchase. Some of the old guard are worried, but most
of us are delighted," Davis said.


"I'm now considering separating FSS from GSA and creating a standalone
organization like the Postal Service," he said. "A quasi-governmental status
makes sense when you look at it through the view of the National Performance Review to
provide leaner, more efficient government."


Davis however, has not yet finished his proposal.


But some industry groups said they agree with his basic premise.


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