WASHINGTON In an effort to cut expenses, the General Services Administration Automotive Center has discontinued the Federal Supply Schedule for government procurement of tires, effective last Dec. 31. This means all government agencies must make their own contracts with tire manufacturers. They already have had that option since 1993.
Also, the GSA is seriously considering an end to the Federal Tire Program, which includes Qualified Products List (QPL) testing for tires and the Quality Assurance Facility Inspection Program (QAFIP) for retreading facilities.
Government and industry officials are dismayed by this, because terminating the QPL would wipe out all quality control for government tire procurement. Retreaders are particularly concerned, because losing the QPL and QAFIP would put an end to more than seven years of hard work to get their products accepted by government procurement officials.
``The effect of having no quality control would be felt in one to three years,'' said Kenneth L. Collings Jr., manager of the GSA Federal Tire Program.
``This will cause the hundreds of contracting offices in the U.S.-federal, state and local-to come up with their own specifications Continued from page 1
for tire procurement,'' Mr. Collings said. ``This means there will be hundreds of little tire programs across the country which tire makers must comply with. This will place an administrative burden on the industry, which means tire prices will skyrocket at every level.''
The White House also has made its displeasure felt, through the words of Federal Environmental Executive Fran McPoland.
``Now, when we have finally reached a point when the retread tire industry has products that can meet the high standards of the QPL, its elimination would put untested, unsafe retread tire products back into the marketplace,'' she said in a letter to GSA Commissioner Frank Pugliese.
``The inevitable failure of these tires would be blamed on the fact that they were retreads, not on the fact that they were untested tires,'' she said. ``These failures would send the federal retread tire program back into the Stone Age.''
In her letter to Mr. Pugliese, she attached letters from industry officials protesting the possible termination of the QPL.
The possible demise of the Federal Tire Program is a classic Catch-22 situation. It began Jan. 1, 1993, when GSA Federal Supply Schedules for all products became optional for all agencies except the GSA itself.
The GSA then tried to increase other agencies' use of its tire schedule by allowing multiple awards on all tire contracts. But federal procurement rules required all bidders on multiple-award contracts to give the GSA sensitive pricing and market information-something tire makers had never done and were not about to do.
Last year, the GSA hired Arthur Andersen & Co. to study the agency's operations and recommend which could be terminated. Since use of the tire Federal Supply Schedule had declined precipitously since 1993, Andersen said that schedule should be dropped.
Furthermore, since the Federal Tire Program no longer would have purchasing power, there would be no reason to retain it, according to the accounting firm.
On Sept. 22, 1995, the GSA notified tire makers and retreaders that the Federal Supply Schedule for tires would be terminated when the last contracts under it expired on Dec. 31. It also asked their opinion on whether the QPL should be continued.
Ironically, under the Procurement Reform Act passed last year, bidders on multiple-award contracts no longer have to supply pricing and market information.
``It was my anticipation that we would re-evaluate the change in purchase volume that would be created by going to a multiple-award system,'' Mr. Collings said. ``That would have made the tire schedule most attractive to all federal agencies.''
The GSA has conducted quality testing on new tires since the late 1960s. Late in 1988, it added retreads to its purview, four years after the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act reauthorization mandated government procurement of retreaded tires.
Throughout World War II and until 1957, the Army conducted tire quality testing at Camp Bullis, Texas. It tested military and commercial tires for itself and the GSA and inspected the facilities of its suppliers for quality control.
In 1957, however, Congress ordered the Army to get out of tire testing. For about a decade thereafter, until the GSA took over, there was no government quality testing for tires, except for tires installed on new military vehicles.
The result was disastrous, according to Henry Hodges Sr., chief executive officer of Hodges Transportation Inc. at the Nevada Auto-motive Test Center.
``What happened was that the cheapest tires were the ones that were purchased, because there were no performance criteria,'' he said. ``It was up to the conscience of the tire maker as to what he wanted to sell the government.''
Many observers fear that loss of the QPL will once again leave procurement officials clueless as to tire quality and safety.
``It's no secret we have a terrible time with federal tire procurement, because the average procurement official doesn't know the first thing about tires,'' Mr. Collings said in a January 1993 interview. ``It's not his fault; it's just the way the system is set up.''
Mr. Collings has worked with retreaders since the late 1980s to help them gain acceptance for their products among federal agencies. The retread industry hopes the QAFIP and other innovations it developed with Mr. Collings will not lapse should the Federal Tire Program become history.
``Anyone who's been certified under the QAFIP would tell you it's made him a better retreader,'' said Marvin Bozarth, executive director of the American Retreaders Association.
``We would hope that by plant inspection and agreed specifications, we could continue to produce a quality product for the government,'' Mr. Bozarth said. ``If not, perhaps a private testing system could be set up within the industry, with supervision by the government.''