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PROCUREMENT-REFORM MEASURE HEADING TO PRESIDENT'S DESK

Proclaiming that the day of the $600 toilet seat is over, the House is sending the president a bill outlining major reform in the way the government does business.

The Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act, passed 425-0 Tuesday, makes more than 225 changes in laws affecting the way the government spends some $200 billion a year. The administration has estimated it could save the government more than $20 billion by the end of this century.The bill is a major aspect of Vice President Al Gore's campaign to "reinvent" a more efficient government.

"This bill is a giant step toward delivering a procurement system that is less expensive and more efficient," Gore said. "By cutting procurement red tape and making it easier for the government to buy commercial products, this legislation will allow the government to buy smarter, more quickly and less expensively."

The bill encourages purchases of "`off-the-shelf" commercial items rather than contracting for items that meet unique government specifications.

It also simplifies procedures for purchases under $100,000, requires more openness in the contracting process and establishes new programs for small and minority businesses.

"We effectively are revolutionizing how the federal government does business in order to avoid buying the $600 hammers and toilet seats which have properly outraged everyone," said Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., chairman of the House Government Operations Committee.

The Defense Department will be the most affected by the streamlining. Rep. Ronald Dellums, D-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said it will help the defense industry diversify while "encouraging other companies long wary of the complexities of government contracting, including small businesses, to participate in the government market."

A Senate committee on Tuesday also approved a bill that would give 40,000 congressional employees the same safety and labor law protections enjoyed by other American workers.

The Governmental Affairs Committee sent to the Senate floor a bill committing the Congress to abide by 10 major employment laws. Included are the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act and the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act.