GSA 'green IT' may hurt niche buyers

Monday - 7/25/2011, 10:41am EDT

Larry Allen, founder, Allen Federal Business Partners

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By Jory Heckman
Federal News Radio

The General Services Administration's move to "greener" IT may actually end up hurting the agency's business.

Under cooperation with its National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship, GSA will no longer offer any products that don't adhere to ENERGY STAR standards or the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT).

"I think this hurts competition if you're GSA, because this takes some choices that your federal customers might want off of your popular GSA information technology schedule," said Larry Allen, founder of Allen Federal Business Partners and former president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, in an interview with Federal News Radio.

"If you're GSA and you suddenly tell your customers, 'I'm not going to provide you with some products that you bought from me previous because I don't think you should have them,' then that customer is going to say, 'Really? Well I can go down the street to another IT contract vehicle and get what I want,'" he said.

Allen said the green initiative has long been expected from GSA, which has been working with companies over environmental and sustainability standards.

"A number of companies have seen this move coming. Martha Johnson, the administrator of GSA, has been very clear in her desire to make GSA the sustainability acquisition agency of choice for the government." He went on to say that most of the IT products companies use are already complaints with ENERGY START and EPEAT standards.

And while the switch to green technology is well-intentioned, Allen said that it may also hurt niche markets that can't easily adapt to the new standards.

"My concern is more with the specialty user - some people who have legitimate reasons for not needing to have an ENERGY STAR compliant product. Not only not needing to, they can't have one because of the nature of the IT work that they do," he said. "Those tend to be a smaller part of the IT market certainly, but they also tend to be some larger ticket items. When you need them, you really need them, and they are very expensive to obtain sometimes, and they can be good business for your contracting program."

Allen said that chasing away this key buyer demographic could be a costly mistake for GSA.

"Everybody's pro-environment. Everybody likes to see the government be sustainable. I just think that this is a move by GSA that you make only if you've got your number one IT program on all cylinders, and the IT-70 program certainly is not in that space right now," Allen said.

"I have never been a fan of a procurement agency telling agencies that they think they know what's best for them," he said. "That type of approach has been tried many times in government acquisition over the years, and not once have I ever seen it be successful."

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Jory Heckman is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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