Letter to the Editor: A clearer view

Until I read the article on the Coalition for Government Procurement, I was unaware of exactly how closely the coalition is tied to Washington Management Group ("Access Denied: Industry association excludes competitors, critics charge," Dec. 15). But I must say, the revelation does explain a few things.

Like officials at immixGroup and other consulting firms, I tried to join the coalition to share in its unprecedented access to the inner workings of GSA. But I, too, was told that my company, Proposal Solutions Inc., would have to pay annual dues of $5,000 per client we represent. That would have amounted to well over $300,000 per year and would have nearly doubled the coalition's regular membership dues.

Our clients, mostly small businesses, do not join the coalition because the dues are high. Their perception is that the coalition is by and for the large schedule vendors. And now it appears that the organization is actually by and for a single consulting company, which officially is not an affiliate of the coalition -- and so does not pay $5,000 per client to participate -- but which still controls every operational position and virtually every management position in the coalition.

Even if you grant folks credit for good intentions, this situation certainly appears to be a conflict of interest, unfair competition and outright misrepresentation. Former government employees should know better.

This seems to compound the problems small businesses face in federal contracting. GSA schedules are the best tool for small companies to compete equally with large businesses that are otherwise favored by contract bundling and outdated small-business certifications. Yet the single industry group that purports to speak to GSA on behalf of those small contractors appears uninterested in their concerns and unwilling to hear from their chosen representatives.

The need for the coalition or someone to interact with GSA is indisputable. GSA needs to hear from the people using the schedules, so the program can be maintained and improved. There is little hope of individual companies being able to influence the agency on issues of import.

GSA also needs a focused outlet for communicating to the vendor community regarding regulatory and policy issues, educational opportunities and so on. And while GSA's stated open-door policy to all vendors and their representatives sounds good, the reality is quite different. It is still very much a who-you-know situation.

Contractors often don't have the time nor know-how to work extensively with GSA, and many GSA representatives dislike working with consultants. That is why membership in the coalition is desirable. One simply wishes the organization that so influences GSA's perception of commercial practices were more above board and truly representative of all schedule vendors, of which most are small businesses.

It will be interesting to learn GSA's reaction, if any, to this article. Perhaps it will lead to some changes that would allow smaller companies, both vendors and their consultants, to participate and share in the benefits of an industry partnership with GSA.

Carol Turpin, President Proposal Solutions Inc.

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