The General Services Administration plans to open the first of a chain of contractor-operated discount computer stores here in September as part of a program designed to put a personal computer in front of each of 12,000 mid-level federal agency managers by the end of fiscal 1984.
But a number of local computer company executives said the idea was "crazy," "poorly thought out" and a "concept that invites a lawsuit charging favoritism."
The GSA yesterday began soliciting bids to set up the "Information Product and Training Center" at the agency's downtown headquarters.
As an incentive, the contractor will be guaranteed a minimum of $100,000 worth of sales to federal agencies over the first 12 months. "We believe this will be a lucrative market for the contractor and this will spur competition," said Harry H. Fuchigami, GSA director of computer procurement.
A GSA fact sheet says the center could sell $5.1 million in computer equipment in its first year of operation.
The GSA wants a contractor who can supply commercially available personal computers in the $2,500-to-$6,000 price range from at least three manufacturers, as well as personnel who can offer training and purchasing guidance. In addition, the center would handle repair problems and host seminars on the varied uses of computers.
"Why should the government be doing this?" said James Barnoff, vice president of Banana Softwarehouse of Silver Spring. "If anything, GSA should contract out training courses and let the private sector handle the sales." Another area computer sales executive, whose firm does business with the government, called the scheme "poorly thought out. It would have to be a fairly large firm to win this contract, and that puts small businessmen--like myself--at a disadvantage."
And Frank Cohen, president of Government Marketing Services of Rockville, said: "It sounds like a great idea only if I win the contract." Cohen and Barnoff's firms also regularly sell to federal agencies through GSA supply schedules.
The GSA's Fuchigami said that although the agency began offering personal computers on its automated data processing equipment supply schedules three years ago it has never tried to bring them to the mid-level program managers throughout the government.
GSA Administrator Gerald P. Carmen has been promoting the pilot program as "a tool to make government more efficient."
"Many of our mid-level managers are literally operating in the Dark Ages," Carmen said. "We're breaking new ground; we're asking people who don't have a machine and who may never have thought about having a machine to try it."
Previously, Fuchigami says, most personal computers were bought by federal agencies only for "people who lived computers; who used them in their work."
GSA legal advisers say that the advent of the technology shouldn't cause any additional problems for mid-level managers, all of whom will be apprised of federal record-keeping requirements and their disclosure responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act.