Bill Introduced to Curb Federal Prison Industries

(The following was reported by the Specialty Graphic Imaging Assn. in 2016)

Congressman Bill Huizenga (MI-02) has introduced H.R. 4671, The Small Business Protection Act. The goal of this legislation is to end UNICOR’s government monopoly and force it to compete with the private sector.

Currently, UNICOR, also known as Federal Prison Industries, automatically gets its choice of federal government contracts through a process known as mandatory sourcing. This provision prevents private-sector businesses from even competing for a federal-government contract. On top of this, UNICOR also possesses special status to poach contracts specifically reserved for small businesses despite being a massive government-run entity that maintains a “workforce” of more than 12,000 prisoners.

“Small-business job growth is critical to developing and maintaining a healthy economy,” said Congressman Huizenga. “UNICOR, which is owned and operated by the federal government, actively undermines the free market. The federal government does not belong in the manufacturing or services industries when there are private-sector options available and law-abiding citizens are looking for work.”

Specifically, H.R. 4671 does four things:

  • Enhances free-market competition by eliminating UNICOR’s mandatory sourcing provision
  • Promotes small-business job growth by preventing UNICOR from bidding on small-business contracts
  • Protects sensitive and personal information from being handled by criminals
  • Requires a study on the effectiveness of UNICOR’s impact on recidivism

To read the text of the bill, go to .

Several years ago, the International Sign Association successfully worked with a coalition on The Hill and with a small-business-friendly Congress/administration that culminated in securing reform language in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 that broke up FPI’s monopoly by allowing the private sector, including the sign industry, to compete for Dept. of Defense contracts if they offered a comparable product, stated David Hickey, ISA’s VP of Governmental Relations. The full report of the act spans nearly 700 pages.

In 1998,  Federal Prison Industries could only sell to the federal government. But Congressman Bill McCollum (R-FL) introduced HR 4100 “Free Market Prison Industries Prison Reform Act of 1998,” which would allow FPI to compete in the private sector. Conversely, in 1997, Congressman Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) introduced HR 2758 to repeal FPI’s 60-year-old monopoly. A report about this appeared in the March 1999 issue of Signs of the Times magazine.


Wade Swormstedt

Wade Swormstedt

Wade is Executive Director of the Foundation for the Advancement of the Sign Industry. Formerly he was Editor and Publisher of Signs of the Times magazine.

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