WASHINGTON – Blind Industries and Services of Maryland has turned to the state government for support after seeing a “noticeable decline in the sales of certain products” to the federal government during the last five years.
But after a meeting last week in which officials from the Maryland Department of General Services pledged to “do whatever we can within state law to help them market their products,” BISM officials were less than hopeful.
“I think the issues here are clear,” said Paul Becker, BISM director of sales. “An agency like ours is not getting the support it should.
“There is a lack of support from the state and if anybody should support us it’s them,” Becker said.
State officials disagreed, saying they do support BISM but cannot make up for the loss of federal business.
“BISM business with the state is ongoing,” said David Humphrey, a spokesman for the Department of General Services. “We think we have a strong relationship.
“What the federal government does doesn’t impact us at all. If they choose to purchase less from BISM we have no control over that,” Humphrey said. “We can’t make up the difference either.”
When state agencies shop for goods, they are required by law to give preference first to goods produced by prison inmates for State Use Industries, then to BISM and finally to sheltered workshops.
BISM employs 213 totally or legally blind people in Maryland, who make legal pads, janitorial products, sweatshirts and other goods for sale to state and federal agencies. The non-profit agency helps rehabilitate blind Maryland residents with classes and job skills that can help them become independent.
“We try to offer a wide range of opportunities,” said Angela Jackson, director of business affairs at BISM.
BISM officials could not say how much the sales to federal agencies have dropped, except to say that it has been steady and noticeable. And a U.S. General Services Administration threat to close some federal supply warehouses, while it may not have a direct impact on BISM, will not make life any easier for the non-profit agency, they said.
At the same time, Jackson said, sales to state agencies “haven’t increased significantly” over the past three fiscal years. She said state purchases have hovered around $1 million a year, inching up to $1.2 million by the end of fiscal 1999.
“The numbers support evidence that the sales have been stagnant,” Becker said. Becker also said that a closer look at overall state purchases reveals “there is an awful lot of business that we aren’t getting.”
Humphrey disputed the BISM claims that the state is not doing enough.
“We’re an advocate of BISM and will do whatever we can within state law to help them market their products,” Humphrey said.
Others in the Department of General Services have said that they want “to work with BISM to help them meet their goals and are very concerned with their declining sales” said Humphrey.
“We want to work with our partners. We consider BISM a partner,” he said.
But Becker said the numbers the state is using to support its case are only ballpark figures and do not take inflation and other factors into account. He said the state is simply not doing enough.
“BISM is the only agency of its kind in Maryland and is named a No. 2 priority in state law. There are agencies out there that you think would be utilizing our products and they’re not,” he said.
“The purchases made from the state are such a minute part of the budget. There is a lack support at the federal and state level,” Becker said.