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Cooperative purchasing boosts homeland security

Cooperative purchasing agreements

General Services Administration Schedule 70

Headquarters Washington

Web site: www.gsa.gov

Description: GSA Schedule 70 provides agencies with IT and telecommunications hardware, software and services. The schedule, which is managed by GSA's Information Technology Acquisition Center, is open to federal, state and local agencies. More than 5,000 contractors are on it.

U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance

Headquarters: Walnut Creek, Calif.

Web site: www.uscommunities.org

Description: U.S. Communities is a non-profit organization that offers cooperative purchasing for cities, counties, schools, higher education institutions, special districts, state agencies and non-profit organizations from all 50 states. Soon it will add homeland security equipment and technology to its product offerings, which include office and school furniture, office machines, janitorial supplies, and park and playground equipment.

Western States Contracting Alliance

Headquarters: Lexington, Ky.

Web site: www.aboutwsca.org

Description: The Western States Contracting Alliance lets states conduct cooperative, multistate contracting to cost-effectively and efficiently acquire products and services. Cooperative purchases are developed by the 15 member states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. There is no vendor list.

Sources: General Services Administration, National Association of State Procurement Officials, U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance, Western States Contracting Alliance

Under a new cooperative purchasing contract, state and local governments soon will be able to buy homeland security goods and services faster and for less money.

The U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance, a non-profit organization in Walnut Creek, Calif., hopes to establish the cooperative purchasing vehicle in July and award contracts the following month, said Kevin Juhring, the group's national program manager.

The alliance is putting the initiative on the fast track to try to help local governments, he said. With the clock ticking on spending of federal grant dollars for homeland security equipment and technology, they're struggling to complete their purchases on time, Juhring said.

The big hurdle they face is not so much writing the check as writing a solicitation from scratch and conducting a procurement, which takes at least 90 days and sometimes longer. After the contract is awarded, "public agencies will have that as an option from which to buy homeland security services that satisfy their competitive solicitation requirements," he said.

The types of products and services offered would be based on the Homeland Security Department's authorized products list, and would include technologies and solutions for wireless interoperable solutions, physical security and detection of chemical and biological agents, he said.

Fairfax County, Va., is taking the lead for the procurement, which would be open to state and local governments throughout the country, Juhring said. Fairfax County was selected for this role because it already buys homeland security products and solutions in a similar cooperative purchasing capacity for jurisdictions in the national capital region, Juhring said.

U.S. Communities is sponsored by city and county organizations, including the National Association of Counties and the National League of Cities. By pooling their purchasing power, government agencies can negotiate reduced prices from the vendors that win cooperative purchasing contracts.

State and local governments also can buy goods and services from the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Service Schedule 70, as well as other regional and state-specific supply schedules.

Although use of cooperative purchasing is spreading, government officials acknowledge that it is not yet an integral part of state and local purchasing.

"State and local cooperative purchasing is very fragmented," said David Dise, deputy director of Fairfax County's Department of Purchasing and Supply Management, at a June 7 conference in Washington.

"Local governments don't talk to each other about this. There is still a lack of cooperation and communication [on cooperative purchasing] by local government," he said at the Coalition for Government Procurement event.

State and local use of GSA's Schedule 70, which was initiated through the E-Government Act of 2002, has been relatively small. Federal lawmakers envisioned that by 2005, state and local governments would be spending $500 million annually through the schedule, but with 2004 sales at only $75 million, that goal remains elusive.

Government officials and industry observers now say it may be 2007 before Schedule 70 passes the $500 million threshold. A best-case scenario, based on market research studies, has it reaching $250 million by 2006.

In contrast, the non-profit Western States Contracting Alliance has been highly successful. The alliance procurement vehicles cover wireless communications, PCs and public safety radio equipment. This year, the alliance expects to coordinate the cooperative purchase of $1.8 billion worth of PCs.

Ellen Phillips, deputy purchasing agent for Massachusetts and president-elect of the National Association of State Procurement Officials, spoke with Dise at the June 7 conference. There are two key reasons that state and local governments are not using Schedule 70, she said. One is the perception among state procurement officials that Schedule 70 contracts aren't competitively bid. The other is the strong allegiance that states have to their own cooperative purchasing schedules.

"Massachusetts has contracts for the same IT goods" as Schedule 70, she said. "We want agencies to use those contracts, unless they have a compelling reason to do otherwise."

Senior Writer William Welsh can be reached at wwelsh@postnewsweektech.com.

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