NOPA to President: We appreciate the thought, now please reconsider.

The National Office Products Alliance (NOPA) has put out a statement that has both praise and some suggestions for President Obama’s plan to trim some of the federal budget by purchasing office supplies “in bulk”. During a discussion of the ways in which he could save money, the topic of office supplies came up, and President Obama mentioned a discussion he had with the Department of Homeland Security during which he was advised that bulk purchasing could save over 50 million dollars. While this sounds good on its face, NOPA has some caveats. Their press release is reprinted here.

The National Office Products Alliance (NOPA) is taking exception to President Barack Obama’s remarks this week regarding the ability of the U.S. Government to save money by purchasing office supplies “in bulk.” Specifically, the President advised reporters that “Secretary Janet Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security estimates that they can save up to $52 million over five years just by purchasing office supplies in bulk.” The remark was made during a discussion of the President’s recent request to all Cabinet members to save at least $100 million through efficiency actions.

In a letter to the President, the Association applauded his determination to ensure that government purchasing is as efficient as possible, but pointed out that “bulk” purchasing does not produce that desired result. Decisions to “strategically” buy office products from a single, large national source have proven unsuccessful and have many unintended consequences. These include displacing competitive small businesses, precisely what our Nation does not need in this challenging economic environment.

In addition, sole-sourcing arrangements are subject to abuse, as an awarded vendor’s pricing on thousands of distinct products is rarely audited and there are no competitors left to challenge the awarded company for the government’s business every day.

NOPA proposes that a better model for government purchasing of office supplies is to use the GSA Multiple Award Schedule that preserves ongoing competition among many vendors and creates ongoing opportunities for successful, innovative small business participation.

“We strongly urge you to move your Administration’s purchasing strategy in that direction,” said Bob Chilton, chairman of NOPA, in his joint letter to President Obama with NOPA president Chris Bates. The letter outlined specific practical reasons why “bulk purchasing” is inefficient, wasteful and fails to deliver “best value” to customers who buy industry products. “We also ask that you encourage your staff and all of your Cabinet Secretaries to give full consideration to our proposed alternative competitive purchasing strategy for office products. We believe it is the superior approach and will save government customers and taxpayers more while producing greater value,” Chilton added.

I can only say that I agree whole-heartedly with NOPA’s assessment of the situation. While it’s easy enough to throw out the term “bulk buying”, it needs to be taken into consideration whether or not you are getting your supplies from multiple, reputable vendors, which eliminates the potential for misconduct. No word yet on the reaction to the NOPA release (if any), but I have seen the story passed around on several major news sites.

A lot of people  think it’s a gag that Obama is trying to cut costs by bulk-buying office supplies (One pundit quips, “What does the government do? Send a guy down to the store every time it needs a ream of copier paper?”), but those of us in the industry realize the seriousness of the issue and will be following it with great interest. Stay tuned for more updates!

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