Nobody likes government inefficiency and waste, but an effort to find a better way to supply the massive federal bureaucracy with pencils, paper, and other office supplies is drawing a jaded eye on Capitol Hill.
The General Services Administration is preparing to drop office supplies from its “Global Supply Stock Program,” through which it buys a multitude of products for federal agencies. The GSA claims the effort is all in the name of cost savings and greater efficiency. But critics say this is just the latest effort in the Bush administration’s campaign against small business contracting programs.
Lurita Doan, who took over as GSA administrator last May, is the descendant of Civil War era slaves, and her family includes three generations of small business owners. She founded her own firm, a surveillance technology company, in 1990. In short, supporters say she has solid small business credentials. But critics say she is a Republican stalwart first and foremost.
It hasn’t helped that in the year since Doan took office, she has been accused of campaign irregularities and of attempting to steer a $20,000 no-bid contract to a friend. House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman called on Doan to testify about her activities in March and continues to investigate her. In her testimony, Doan followed what has become the standard Bush administration response: She couldn’t remember anything.
In this latest battle over pencils and paper, three Republicans and two Democrats on Capitol Hill have fired off a letter to Doan, protesting her agency’s plans to eliminate the purchase of office supplies through the program. Currently, 80 percent of those contracts go to small businesses, and the change would allow the GSA to buy from fewer larger companies.
“It’s unacceptable for the Administration to abandon innovative and effective small businesses in favor of a handful of big businesses,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in a statement. Kerry, who chairs the Senate small business committee, wrote the letter on behalf of Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and House members Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., and Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, the chairman and ranking member respectively of the House small business committee.
The group wants the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the impact on small business suppliers and has asked Doan to suspend any efforts to change the current program with respect to office supplies until the GAO finishes its examination. They’ve asked for a response in 30 days.
“At present, approximately 80 percent of the office supply procurements for the Stock Program are directed to small businesses. Therefore, any change to this program that does not fully and properly take into account the detrimental impact on small business greatly concerns us,” Kerry wrote.