A new law allows the federal government to provide surplus and repairable used computers directly to nonprofit refurbishers, who will then provide them to individuals in need.
Tucked within the sprawling 2023 spending bill passed by Congress and signed by President Biden in December was a provision updating how the federal government is allowed to dispose of its used computers.
Previously, the law allowed federal agencies to provide surplus property – including computer equipment – to states, which can then provide it to local governments, businesses or nonprofit groups. But some of the equipment needs repair and refurbishment first, and the federal government didn’t have the authority to provide the electronics directly to third-party electronics refurbishers.
Bill language backed by U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., provides that authority. The language was previously included in a bill called the “Computers for Veterans and Students Act of 2022.”
According to a press release from Spanberger’s office, the language will “allow certified, nonprofit refurbishing companies to directly obtain, refurbish and distribute surplus government computers to veterans and others in need of a device. Additionally, the new law requires each nonprofit computer refurbisher receiving computers to provide training programs in the use of this technology.”
According to the bill language, surplus computer and technology equipment can be given to refurbishers only if the federal agency determines the equipment is repairable and NIST data sanitization guidelines are met. For their part, refurbishers are required to make necessary repairs to the devices and distribute them at no cost (except for charges covering shipping and handling), and they must offer computer training programs to recipients.
Refurbishers must also “use recyclers to the maximum extent practicable in the event that surplus computer or technology equipment transferred under this section cannot be repaired or reused.”
The bill language allows the General Services Administration (GSA) to craft regulations to implement the donation program. Those regulations will include the eligibility and certification requirements that nonprofit refurbishers will have to meet, including reviewing them for threats to national security (the GSA will have to disclose in a report to Congress any refurbishers with foreign ownership interests that received federal equipment, as well).
GSA will also draft regulations “determining appropriate recyclers to dispose of surplus computer or technology equipment if it cannot be repaired or refurbished under this section.”
In a report to Congress, the GSA will provide a tally of computers ultimately provided by their refurbisher partners to educational institutions, people with disabilities, low-income people, students, seniors in need or veterans.
The aim is to help bridge the digital divide, with Spanberger’s office noting that the pandemic shifted job application processes, educational opportunities and hiring processes online, leaving low-income households, homeless veterans and seniors without a computer in the lurch.
“After several years of pushing this legislation forward, I am proud to see it cross the finish line and be signed into law by the President,” Spanberger stated in a press release.
The bill language has been backed by a number of electronics recycling stakeholders, including Tech for Troops, Human-IT, Digitunity and others, including the dozens of members of the Alliance for Technology Refurbishing and Reuse (AFTRR).
In a statement to E-Scrap News, GSA said it is “in the initial planning stages of implementing the law,” and it will consult with stakeholders as it begins to design the program, called the Computers for Veterans and Students (COVS) program, and establish implementing regulations.
“We look forward to implementing this new program to help bridge the digital divide,” GSA wrote.
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