Cooperative purchasing bill close to becoming law

Senate approves measure to open GSA's law enforcement and security-based Schedule 84 to state and local governments.

The Senate has approved a bill that would allow state and local governments to purchase law enforcement, firefighting and security products and services through a General Services Administration supply schedule.

Comment on this article in The Forum.On Tuesday evening, the Senate agreed by unanimous consent to pass H.R. 3179, also known as the Local Preparedness Acquisition Act.

Sponsored by Reps. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., and Brian Bilbray, R-Calif., the bill would allow nonfederal government entities to buy off GSA's Schedule 84 through a process known as cooperative purchasing. An identical bill passed the House by voice vote last December.

About 1,300 vendors sell a variety of products and services on Schedule 84, including nuclear, biological, chemical and toxic gas detection sensors; alarm systems; marine crafts; surveillance equipment; gas masks; bomb detection tools and body armor.

Currently, cooperative purchasing is available only on GSA's Schedule 70, which sells IT equipment. Congress granted similar purchasing authority in the fiscal 2007 National Defense Authorization Act for products related to disaster recovery or terrorist attacks.

"This is a huge accomplishment for our industry," said Don Erickson, director of government relations for the Security Industry Association, at the group's annual summit in Washington on Wednesday.

Also speaking at the conference, Kellie Stoker, chief of the Law Enforcement and Security Branch within GSA's Federal Acquisition Service, which manages Schedule 84, said the legislation would go a long way in improving interoperability between federal, state and local law enforcement organizations. "It's also a good deal for taxpayers," she said.

Cooperative purchasing is voluntary for state and local governments as well as vendors. A Congressional Budget Office analysis indicated the bill would have no net impact on federal spending.

Roughly 30 states have used Schedule 70. Several large states, including California and Texas, have their own cooperative purchasing agreements and do not use the GSA Schedules.

Even before passage of the cooperative purchasing agreement, sales on Schedule 84 were on the rise.

Through the end of April, the schedule had $1.8 billion in reported sales; the agency had projected $2.3 billion for all of fiscal 2008. Stoker expects sales to reach at least $2.5 billion by the end of the fiscal year.

Cooperative purchasing likely will not affect Schedule 84 sales until fiscal 2009. This fiscal year, contractors and GSA purchasing officials are preparing for the transition to the cooperative purchasing approach, which should take three to six months, Stoker said.

A GSA official who spoke on condition of anonymity estimated that cooperative purchasing should increase Schedule 84 revenue by between $100 million and $200 million per year, although that figure could grow if state and local governments spend additional grant money doled out annually by the Homeland Security Department.

Since the Senate accepted the House bill without changes, the measure is expected to move quickly to President Bush's desk for signature, possibly within the week.

Although the White House has not indicated publicly whether it supports the Local Preparedness Acquisition Act, the GSA official said the bill has broad public and private sector approval and likely will be signed into law.

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