OMB Printing Proposal Is Controversial
WASHINGTON, DC—The Bush Administration's proposal to open up the printing needs of the executive branch to competitive bidding is garnering both praise and criticism.
Outgoing Public Printer Michael DiMario claims, in a letter to the Joint Committee on Printing, that the changes would hurt small printers who depend on Government Printing Office (GPO) work. In contrast, Ben Cooper, Printing Industries of America's executive vice president for public policy, believes that the proposal would open up new contract avenues for all printers.
Currently, the GPO outsources approximately 75 percent of all of its work through its Printing Procurement Program, which is made up of more than 16,000 printers or nearly 40 percent of the industry. (See page 16 for Top 50 GPO Printers list.) The list includes printers from every state in the nation and more than 70 percent of those printers are small businesses. The jobs that the GPO retains in-house is work that is time-sensitive or cannot be procured for security reasons.
At present, the GPO serves as a one-stop shopping site for approximately 6,300 federal departments, bureaus, offices, agencies and other entities. "Under the new system, only printers who can afford to hire specialized government sales staffs to ferret out printing opportunities from these federal agencies or who have unique relationships with the agencies would now be able to win jobs," claims DiMario.
Cooper disagrees. "The GPO's procurement system is not a perfect system and it has some serious problems. The GPO's customer is the executive branch and not everyone is uniformly satisfied with the GPO's work. There are a number of dissatisfied agencies and, over the years, they've gained waivers to go outside of the GPO. So, no, the GPO does not have all of the government work," he says.
One alternate proposal currently being considered would be to set up a new bidding system that would use the FedBizOpps.gov Website.
Searching for Work
FedBizOpps.gov is the single government point-of-entry for federal government procurement opportunities valued at more than $25,000. Government buyers are able to publicize their business opportunities by posting information directly to FedBizOpps via the Internet. Commercial vendors seeking federal markets for their products and services can search, monitor and retrieve opportunities solicited by the entire federal contracting community.
"Currently, a small printer must go through the GPO or a private bid service to gain access to government work," notes Cooper. The proposals to use the FedBizOpps Website would, effectively "liberate those contracts for small printers."
But DiMario argues that the proposed system would also decrease the availability of contract opportunities. Under the OMB's proposed changes, federal agency personnel could use credit cards to make non-competitive purchases up to $2,500. More than 80 percent of all orders procured by the GPO are valued at $2,500 or less. Also, those jobs valued at more than $25,000 would be subjected to competition from NAFTA trading partners. Whereas contracts made available under the print procurement system is subject to the "Buy American Act."
Competition might also be restricted in other ways, according to DiMario. For example the OMB's current request for bids to print the 2004 U.S. budget restricts competition to within a 50 mile radius of Washington, DC.
Cooper points out that a geographical restriction would be beneficial for small printers. For example, a military base would be able to purchase printing from a local printer under the OMB's proposal, thus further benefitting a small printer located near the base.
Cooper maintains that the overriding issue is that the current GPO bid system acts as a reverse auction. "Government printing is the only place where the printing industry accepts commodity-type bidding. We are trying to suggest that the best thing for everyone is best value contracts where long-term relationships are built. That is really where we are going with this."