Business Rebuff Finds Davis Redoing Y2K Bill

Business Rebuff Finds Davis Redoing Y2K Bill

Rep. Thomas Davis

By Steve LeSueur, Staff Writer

Opposition from business groups is forcing Rep. Thomas Davis, R-Va., to revise legislation that would allow state and local governments to buy year 2000 services and products from the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Schedule.

Davis introduced the legislation in April to streamline the procurement process for state and local governments that are struggling to make their systems Y2K compliant before the new year. But opponents contend that the bill's provisions are too broad and could open the door to the purchase of products that have nothing to do with the year 2000 problem.

"I just see this as a cattle call for state and local governments to get computers and anything they want off the GSA schedule," said Kenton Pattie, a spokesman for several small business organizations that sell police, fire and emergency vehicles and equipment to local governments.

Davis is working with opponents both on and off Capitol Hill to amend the legislation and address their concerns, said Trey Hardin, the congressman's press secretary.

Hardin declined to provide details of the possible changes, but those following the legislation said the new language likely will focus on two major issues. The first would be to ensure that state and local governments restrict their purchases to Y2K-related products and services. The second would be to reduce the time frame when those purchases can be made. His current bill would allow purchases off the GSA schedule through Dec. 31, 2002.

The congressman is trying to work out compromise language while the bill awaits approval from the Government Reform Committee before going to the floor for a full vote.

"We're on a good track to work things out with the interests groups," said Hardin.

The Clinton administration, local government organizations and the Information Technology Association of America all have voiced support for the legislation, HR 1599, also called the Year 2000 Compliance Assistance Act. But despite their backing, some supporters acknowledge getting the necessary votes will be difficult.

"It's going to be an uphill battle," said Olga Grkavac, an executive vice president with the Information Technology Association of America, an Arlington, Va., lobbying organization with more than 11,000 members. The majority of the association's members support the legislation, she said.

There is no companion bill in the Senate, where the sentiment appears to be against cooperative purchasing, according to observers. "Based on the previous opposition to cooperative purchasing, I don't think it will go far," said an aide on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

Supporters contend the bill will reduce the costs of procuring Y2K services and, more importantly, will give governments access to a host of national information technology companies and streamline the process for hiring qualified vendors.

"Many states and localities are simply running out of time," Davis said when introducing the bill.

The bill will help these governments "by cutting through procurement red tape," said Nancy Peters, a vice president with CACI International Inc. of Arlington, at a June 23 hearing. "It is too late for any government entity to issue an RFP [request for proposals] and endure a lengthy procurement process."

The GSA's schedule 70, or information technology schedule, has 1,818 vendors, of which 291 were specifically designated as "vendors who have millennium conversion [Y2K] products and/or services," said Joel Willemssen, the General Accounting Office's top official handling Y2K issues, at the same hearing. About 76 percent of the vendors that provide year 2000 products and services were small businesses, he said.

State and local governments are expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next several years fixing year 2000 problems. Experts are uncertain how much of that money would be shifted to companies on the GSA schedule, but Pattie said that many local businesses would be irreparably harmed if their government customers shifted to GSA schedule vendors for just a few years.

"It will give state and local governments a good taste of federal cooperative purchasing and when the bill sunsets, they'll come and lobby Washington for it to continue," said Pattie, who represents the National Emergency Equipment Dealers Association, National Association of Police Equipment Distributors, National EMS Distributors Association, and National Center for Fair Competition, all of Annandale, Va.

Pattie contends that the legislation is designed primarily for the large systems integrators, many of which can be found in Davis' high-tech Northern Virginia district.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also opposes the bill in its present form, but is working with Davis' office to narrow the bill and scale back its time frame, said Andrew Fortin, manager of privatization policy for the Washington-based organization. It represents nearly 3 million members.

"We still have great reservations about cooperative purchasing in general, but we recognize that the Y2K problem is a unique situation and we don't want to prevent state and local governments from getting the help they need," said Fortin.

Although the Clinton administration supports the legislation, it has recommended that it expire after June 2000, rather than at the end of 2002. This would help minimize opposition, said Deidre Lee, acting deputy director for management in the Office of Management and Budget, in a June 23 letter.

Pattie, however, remains skeptical and said Davis' office has not asked his organizations for help in crafting a compromise.

This is not the first time Congress has dealt with this issue. A provision in the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 would have allowed cooperative purchasing across a broad spectrum of goods and services. But after fierce opposition from the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, this provision was suspended, then repealed in 1997.

Willemssen said the Davis bill could provide help to state and local governments that are lagging in addressing the year 2000 problem. "Creative solutions, such as allowing state and local governments access to federal supply schedules for year 2000 purposes, may well be warranted," he said.

But to have any real effect in solving year 2000 problems, the legislation must be passed soon.

"Unless the [Government Reform] Committee schedules a mark-up soon, it's probably going to die," said Grkavac.

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