Expect renewed fight over MAS co-op plan

A cooperative purchasing plan to let state and local governments buy through
Multiple-Award Schedule contracts may not be dead--yet.


Although the Senate and the House Appropriations committees this summer voted in favor
of banning cooperative purchasing, which Congress proposed three years ago, the issue may
end up at the budget conference table.


If the program has a savior, it likely is a procedural point in the House rules that
gives the Appropriations Committee authority to hand out funds but restricts it from
setting policy. That power belongs to the oversight and authorizing committees, House
staff members said.


Before Congress adjourned for recess last month, the House Appropriations Subcommittee
on Treasury, Postal Service and General Government passed an amendment, introduced by Rep.
Anne Northup (R-Ky.), to repeal the language establishing cooperative purchasing. The full
committee then passed the measure without objection, committee staff members said.


But some House lawmakers are arguing that Appropriations overstepped its authority.


"House rules make a clear distinction between appropriation and legislation. The
Appropriations Committee can appropriate but cannot set policy for appropriations," a
House Rules Committee lawyer said.


Northup said she knew when she introduced the amendment that it was in violation of
House procedures and that another member could hold up the amendment on a point of order.


But the first-term congresswoman said she felt introducing the measure was the last
chance the House had to repeal the plan to give state and local buyers access to General
Services Administration schedule contracts. Northup said she is against cooperative
purchasing because the measure would hurt local businesses.


Northup acknowledged that she would not have introduced the repeal language if the
Senate had not passed a similar measure. "I think the Senate in this case might
restore the [House] subcommittee and the committee's language, given that the Senate
itself is in support of it," she said.


But Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said he plans to fight the Northup amendment when the
appropriations bill comes before the House for a vote this month. He wants GSA to set up a
pilot for state and local buyers to use information technology schedule contracts.


"The Appropriations Committee is trying to write legislation without holding
hearings on it," Davis said. "They can take out every other item from the
cooperative purchasing, but the IT part is a no-brainer."


Davis, a former president of PRCInc. has become increasingly active in systems issues.


Any member can raise a point of order during a House vote, but the speaker usually
defers any decision to the Rules Committee.


The Rules Committee lawyer said he was not aware if Burton had discussed the matter
with the committee chairman, Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-N.Y.). "Traditionally, the Rules
Committee chairman would yield more to the Government Reform Committee chairman more than
he would to the Appropriations Committee," he said.


Vendors have not formed a united stand on the issue. Some computer companies, such as
Compaq Corp., Gateway 2000 Inc. and Dell Computer Corp., are against opening the MAS to
local and state buyers, but many other companies support it, according to the Information
Technology Association of America.


ITAA estimates that state and local government agencies spend $37 billion a year on
hardware, software and maintenance. More contracts offer more options and increase
competitive pricing, said Olga Grkavac, ITAA's senior vice president for integration.


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