WASHINGTON — Legislation was introduced this month to further limit the scope of office furniture and other products that can be sold by Unicor, a government-owned corporation that employs federal prisoners.

Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI), H.R. 3634 would amend Title 18 of the U.S. Code and minimize its “unfair competition” with private sector firms when competing for government jobs. In addition, it would require Unicor to submit a detailed analysis of the impact of new products on the private sector. Also importantly, it also bars Unicor from selling its products commercially or internationally and prohibits the Unicor from contracts in which inmates would have access to classified or “sensitive” information.

This is not the first time UNICOR has come under fire. Senator Carl Levin and former Representative Peter Hoekstra have also spearheaded legislation in the past on the Federal Prison Industries’ corporation UNICOR in an attempt to level the playing field with private industry.

“This bill gives the taxpayer the greatest value for their hard-earned money by forcing federal agencies to bid for fair and reasonable prices and for product that best suit their needs,” Huizenga said in a statement. “The bill preserves market access for these products or services to the hard-working men and women of our districts. This is simply one more easy, common sense way to preserve jobs and help restore economic security for America.”

Unicor competes with the private sector for jobs in seven business segments: office furniture, clothing and textiles, electronics, fleet management and vehicular components, industrial products, recycling and services, such as call centers. The company reported fiscal 2010 net sales of $776.98 million of which $129.31 million was from office furniture sales.

The bill, which has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, has received bipartisan support from legislators and a broad coalition of industry groups and companies, including the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Assn. (BIFMA), American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA), American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), National Alliance for Fair Competition and Steelcase Inc. (Click here for a complete list of business groups).

“We should be looking to make government more efficient and cost-effective, and this bill does that,” said co-sponsor Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI) in a statement. “I support this legislation because it will save taxpayer money and open up the contracting process to competition by allowing businesses to bid for these contracts.

Additional co-sponsors are Representatives Barney Frank (D-MA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Donald Manzullo (R-IL), John Olver (D-MA), Edward Royce (R-CA) and Patrick Tiberi (R-OH).

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