Office Supplies Pricing Study Had Limitations, but New Initiative Shows Potential for Savings

December 22, 2011

What GAO Found

GSA estimated that federal agencies spent about $1.6 billion during fiscal year 2009 purchasing office supplies from more than 239,000 vendors. GSA concluded that agency buyers paid higher prices when they bought office supplies outside GSA’s Multiple Award Schedule program than they would have using the schedules or OS II. According to GSA, the price premiums averaged 75 percent compared to the schedule prices and 86 percent compared to OS II. GAO identified data and other limitations in GSA’s study, such as not always controlling for variation in quantities of identical items when comparing prices. GAO was not able to fully quantify the impact of these limitations. Officials from other agencies—Air Force, Army, Navy, and DHS—also questioned the study’s specific findings on price premiums, believing them to be overstated, but their own studies support GSA’s general conclusion that better prices can be obtained through consolidated, leveraged purchasing. The GSA study also concluded that buyers compared prices before making purchases, but this conclusion was based on interviews with senior-level acquisition officials and not on information obtained from any of the approximately 270,000 government purchase cardholders who made the purchasing decisions.

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