Bill Tempers FPI Monopoly

December 12, 2003
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Hoping to put one more nail in the coffin of Federal Prison Industries, U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra has secured support for opening all federal procurement contracts to competition for at least the rest of the fiscal year.

The massive $328 billion spending bill the U.S. House passed a week ago includes a Hoeksra-backed amendment.

The measure would temporarily remove the virtual monopoly Federal Prison Industries (FPI) exercises over federal purchasing.  She Senate, meanwhile, is considers a different House-passed measure permanently reforming the agency.

Hoekstra’s amendment to the spending bill would strip so-called mandatory source status — which requires federal agencies to buy goods from FPI whenever possible — for the remainder of the federal government’s 2004 fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

The bill is now pending in the Senate, where action is not expected until late January.

Adding the amendment to the spending bill represents one more avenue for Hoekstra and other critics in their push against FPI, an arm of the U.S. Justice Department’s Federal Bureau of Prisons.

FPI employs more than 21,700 federal prison inmates to produce some 80 products, including textiles, electronic and automotive components, military parts and office furniture, sold under the Unicor brand name.

“We are pushing on all fronts,” said Hoekstra. “It’s kind of like you just keep chipping away a little piece at a time.”

Congress last year backed a similar amendment that Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, added to a bill, enabling the Department of Defense to purchase goods from the private sector.

The Department of Defense is FPI’s largest customer.

Successfully adding the amendment to the spending bill came a month after the House overwhelmingly passed Hoekstra’s legislation to permanently reform FPI and phase out mandatory source status over five years.

The amendment gives federal agencies the jurisdiction to determine, based on the product and delivery schedule, whether FPI or a private vendor offers the best value then make the purchase accordingly.    

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