Putnam asks GSA to clarify progress on SmartBuy

Rep. Adam Putnam is questioning the General Services Administration about why it is taking so long to get the SmartBuy enterprisewide software license buying initiative under way.

The Florida Republican, chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census, asked GSA administrator Stephen Perry for a progress report and a list of possible impediments to the program.

In a letter to Perry, Putnam said, "It appears that there may be a dilemma requiring your intervention. The subcommittee is not aware of any meaningful progress being made to achieve SmartBuy's cost savings goals for fiscal 2003, nor plans for additional near-term cost savings in early 2004."

The Office of Management and Budget introduced SmartBuy in February in the fiscal 2004 budget request, and it named GSA as the federal executive agent this summer. SmartBuy's purpose is to drive down the cost of enterprise licensing and improve the terms agencies receive from software vendors. OMB issued guidance to agencies in August asking them to freeze new or renewal software licenses unless approved by the SmartBuy team.

In view of interest expressed by industry and agencies, GSA officials had said they would finish a few agreements before Oct. 1, the beginning the new federal fiscal year.

Putnam said he was concerned that agencies would be forced to renew licenses under more expensive terms.

"We want to try to move the ball up the field in these government reform initiatives," said Bob Dix, subcommittee staff director. "OMB said there would be savings in 2003 and we want to see where the program is and if there is anything we can do from a congressional standpoint to help move it along."

Dix said the letter did not stem from any specific discussions with vendors or agencies about the program.

A GSA spokeswoman said the agency received the letter and will respond in a timely manner after Perry reviews it.

Dix said he hopes to hear back from GSA in 10 to 15 days.

Larry Allen, executive director for the Coalition for Government Procurement, a Washington trade association, said the problems with SmartBuy are threefold. First, vendors are not sold on how it will benefit them. Second, the program lost steam when its champions?OMB director Mitchell E. Daniels and Mark Forman, administrator for e-government and IT?recently left for the private sector. Third, the issues surrounding the program are more complicated than originally thought.

"A number of our members said they don't see what is in it for them," Allen said. "Vendors see a centralized acquisition program as a good thing, but it does not address all parts of the acquisition process and may not decrease their overall cost of doing business. That is not a problem of GSA's making; that is a fundamental issue with what SmartBuy is."

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