WASHINGTON-Despite protests from supporters in the tire industry and the federal government, Qualified Products List testing for government procurement of new and retread tires will die Dec. 31. The Quality Assurance Facility Inspection Program for retread facilities also will lapse on that date. Officials of the General Service Administration seem determined to bury the QPL and QAFIP as quickly and quietly as possible.
Although rumors fly about efforts to resurrect at least the QPL, no one will speak on the record concerning them.
Most tire industry representatives have particularly condemned the move to terminate the QPL.
``This has got to be the dumbest thing I've ever seen the government do,'' said Frank Marano, manager, government sales for Bandag Inc. ``It removes the only protection the government has against buying defective tires. . . .Either they don't understand the implications of what they're doing, or they just don't give a damn.''
Loss of the QPL ``sets us back 10 years,'' according to Mr. Marano. Because government fleet buyers will have no guideline but price for retread procurement, they will end up buying ``garbage,'' which gives retreading a bad name, he said.
The GSA Automotive Center discontinued the Federal Supply Schedule for government procurement of tires last Dec. 31. The schedule became optional in 1993, and because of the resulting decline in its use, the agency killed it.
Doing away with the Federal Supply Schedule for tires obviates the need for the entire Federal Tire Program, including the QPL and QAFIP, GSA officials decided.
``Since GSA is no longer procuring tires on a centralized basis, it is our plan to phase out the prequalification/testing of new and retread tires,'' said Acting GSA Administrator David J. Barram in a June 4 letter, responding to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who urged Mr. Barram to keep QPL testing ``to encourage environmentally sound procurement'' of retreads.
The current QPL, consisting of tires qualified before testing was banned, will remain in effect for up to six years, Mr. Barram said. The Transportation Department may fill the vacancy left by the QPL, he added. ``DOT has indicated that their future standards may require some expanded testing,'' he said. ``DOT standards are used in the commercial marketplace to buy and sell tires.''
This is typical of the answers the GSA has given those who want to save the QPL, sources said, and many are angry with the agency for its unresponsiveness.
``The GSA is saying the DOT should be in charge (of tire testing),'' said Federal Environmental Executive Fran McPoland. ``*`But that's not the DOT's mandate,' we try to tell them. The GSA has responsibility for all government fleet procurement; the DOT merely sets safety standards.''
The International Tire and Rubber Association summed up retreaders' concerns about losing the QPL in a May 28 letter to GSA Commissioner Frank P. Pugliese.
``We are especially concerned that the government would then purchase tires from the lowest bidder without any assurance of quality or performance standards,'' said ITRA Executive Director Marvin Bozarth in the letter. ``This would result in very poor quality casings for retreading, and many would be unretreadable.''
Both the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Command told Mr. Bozarth they must have tire quality testing, even without the QPL.
``Multiple government agencies would then have to set up their own testing programs, which would defeat the purpose of cost-cutting and eliminate one testing program in favor of several others,'' he said. ``This process would be more costly and much more difficult for tire manufacturers and retreaders to comply with, because the testing would not be uniform.''
Losing the QPL and QAFIP is of no particular concern to the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, according to Donald T. Wilson, NTDRA director of government relations. The retreading facility certification program the association offers through its Tire Retreading Institute is sufficient to ensure the quality of government retreads, he said.