FPI Reform Goes To Full House

August 1, 2003
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U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra's latest push to reform Federal Prison Industries now sits with the full House, following the recent passage of legislation in committee.

The House Judiciary Committee on July 25 passed the Federal Prison Industries Competition in Contraction Act. The bill would remove a provision known as mandatory source status that requires federal agencies to buy prisoner-made products when avail-able.

Hoekstra, R-Holland, is optimistic the full House will support the bill in September and send it on to the Senate, where U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, has a similar measure pending.

The bill has the strong support not only of Levin but also U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, plus the Senate's GOP leaders.

In the House, Congressman John Conyers, D-Detroit, backs the measure as strongly at Hoekstra himself.

The key question is whether the Bush administration will back the bill, Hoekstra said. He and House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner have sought the support of recommendations of the administration on the bill. "Unfortunately, all that hard-working men and women across America have received are vague equivocations," Hoekstra said.

The bill also would provide alternatives for prisoner rehabilitation, increase access to remedial and vocational training that has proven to help reduce recidivism, and encourage the use of inmates to perform public service projects, Hoekstra said.

Federal Prison Industries is an arm of the U.S. Justice Department's Federal Bureau of Prisons.

It employs more than 21,700 federal inmates to produce some 80 products, including textiles, electronic and automotive components. It also manufacturers office furniture sold under the Unicor brand name in direct competition with Steelcase, Haworth and Herman Miller, Hoekstra's old firm.

Industry's chief complaint is that FPI's mandatory source powers preclude private manufacturers even from having an opportunity to bid competitively for the federal government's giant market.                

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