Posted By John Palatiello,
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Updated: Friday, February 17, 2012
Dick McDonald, T-3 Global Strategies (Bridgeville, PA) joined U.S.
Representatives Bill Huizenga (R-MI), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), James
Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Walter Jones (R- NC), and Don Manzullo (R-IL) at a news
conference on Thursday, February 16 to announce House
legislation that will permit manufacturers and service providers to compete on
equal footing for contracts with the federal government by reforming Federal
Prison Industries (FPI). Speakers at the media event included John
Palatiello, President, Business Coalition for Fair Competition (Reston, VA);
Alan Bubes, Chief Executive Officer, Linens of the Week (Washington, D.C.) and
Jonathan Long, Program Manager, Propper International (Weldon Spring, Missouri).
The event was held in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center,
Room HVC-200 in Washington, DC.
Video of the news conference is available above. Read the news release from Rep. Huizenga.
cosponsored by 12 bipartisan members of the U.S. House and supported by 10
business organizations, H.R. 3634 provides greater competition in federal
contracting by permitting private sector firms, including small business, more
opportunities by reducing FPI’s unfair
advantages. Additionally, H.R. 3634 would prohibit FPI and its inmate workers
from having access to a variety of geospatial information, about individual
citizens' property or critical infrastructure location.
This bill is virtually identical to H.R. 2965,
the bill that passed the House in 2006 by a 362-57 vote (Roll no. 443).
MAPPS supported that bill. A companion bill was approved by a Senate
committee, but was not enacted into law. However, other piecemeal FPI
reforms have been put in place by Congress in recent years.
With unemployment continuing at dangerously high levels,
2012 may be the year Congress enacts a bill that has support from Republicans
and Democrats, business and labor.
Like its predecessor, H.R. 3634 includes two provisions
significant to MAPPS.
First, the bill prohibits agencies from specifying FPI, or
its products, as a source in any Federal agency synopsis/solicitation. There
have been incidents where architect-engineer (A/E) contracts have required the
A/E firm to specify a FPI product, such as a modular furniture system, in its
Most importantly, the bill prohibits FPI and its inmate
workers from having access to a variety of geospatial information, about
individual citizens’ property or critical infrastructure location.
Specifically, it bans FPI from providing "a service in which an inmate worker
has access to personal or financial information about individual private
citizens, including information relating to such person’s real property,
however described, without giving prior notice to such persons or class of
persons to the greatest extent practicable; geographic data regarding the
location of surface and subsurface infrastructure providing communications,
water and electrical power distribution, pipelines for the distribution of
natural gas, bulk petroleum products and other commodities, and other utilities;
or data that is classified.”This provision would prohibit FPI from
engaging in most, if not all, geospatial activities.
With regard to services, the bill eliminated FPI’s status as
a preferred source. A Federal agency can only contract with FPI for services,
such as GIS, CAD, scanning, digitizing, if the buying agency’s contracting
officers determines FPI’s services meet the agency’s need in a number of
criteria, can perform on time, and provides the service at a fair market
price. This eliminates enormous advantages FPI has enjoyed in providing
services. With regard to products, FPI’s previous mandatory source status
is ended in favor of full and open competition.
The bill also prohibits FPI from providing services in the
commercial market. Although FPI’s original 1930’s enabling law prohibited
prison-made products from commercial market entry, the organization secured a
legal opinion during the Clinton Administration that said since Congress
mentioned products in the 1930’s, and not services, then sale of prisoner
provided services must be permitted, notwithstanding that the United States did
not have a service economy in the 1930s. Several state attorneys general have
issued similar opinions with regard to state prisons.
Federal Prison Industries, Inc.,
which operates under the trade name UNICOR, is a self-supporting, wholly-owned
government corporation that employs federal prison inmates. A program of
the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons, FPI offers hundreds of products and
services, including a number of data conversion activities.
A number of state prison industry
operations have extensive GIS capabilities, including Colorado, Florida, and Texas, to name
A recent MAPPS legislative issues
poll found 51 percent of members continue to view prison industry reform
legislation as a very important or somewhat important issue.
It has been reported that FPI won a contract
from the Corps of Engineers to make signs. The funding came from the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA, commonly known as the stimulus
bill. While that bill was intended to put law-abiding, unemployed Americans
back to work, not to support inmates, the expenditure of Federal ARRA funds on
prison industries is being investigated by Congress.
Under H.R. 3634,
FPI/UNICOR would be required to submit a detailed analysis of the impact to the
private sector before entering into new product markets and would not be able
to sell products commercially or internationally; the only customer could be
the federal government. It also prohibits agencies from contracting with FPI in
which inmates would have access to sensitive or classified information.
"This bill gives the taxpayer
the greatest value for their hard-earned money by forcing federal agencies to
bid for fair and reasonable prices and for products that best suit their needs.
The bill preserves market access for these products or services to the
hard-working men and women of our districts. This is simply one more easy,
common sense way to preserve jobs and help restore economic security for
America," Huizenga said.
"This legislation will protect
the jobs of hard-working American taxpayers while providing valuable
alternative rehabilitative opportunities to better prepare inmates for a
successful return to society. It is a workable, bipartisan solution
to the problem," Rep. Maloney added.
"It is time to allow for fair
competition for U.S. manufacturers," according to Rep. Frank.
"We should be looking to make
government more efficient and cost-effective, and this bill does that. I
support this legislation because it will save taxpayer money and open up the
contracting process to competition by allowing businesses to bid for these
contracts," Sensenbrenner said.
Other examples of the industries FPI
competes in include: clothing and textiles, electronics, vehicular components
and fleet management, industrial products, office furniture, electronics
recycling, and services such as call center and data and document conversion.
The bill has already gathered
interest from a broad coalition of business groups and has a bipartisan list of
supporters in Congress from all across America. Original co-sponsors include
Reps. Donald Manzullo (R-IL), Edward Royce, (R-CA), Patrick Tiberi (R-OH), and
John Olver (D-MA).
In the past, studies by the
Government Accountability Office (GAO) found FPI products and services did not
meet agency requirements,
were not delivered in a timely manner,
and were at times more expensive that the private