Unions applaud A-76 changes

The House and Senate last week completed work on a compromise version of the bill that funds the Office of Management and Budget. This version would limit controversial competitive sourcing rules.

The compromise is a better deal for federal employees than earlier proposals, according to federal employee unions, which had fought the competitive sourcing initiative.

The bill, which passed out of conference Nov. 12, allows federal employees to develop a "most efficient organization" when more than 10 jobs are open to private-sector competition, which union officials say puts employees in a stronger position.

It also grants employees the right to appeal contracting decisions to the General Accounting Office, requires agency officials to show that they will save at least 10 percent or $10 million by outsourcing work, and does not require agencies to recompete jobs every five years, as was first proposed.

Competitive sourcing is governed by OMB Circular A-76, which the agency revised in May. Federal unions decried the Bush administration's renewed emphasis on competitive sourcing as an effort to privatize the government at the cost of federal jobs, but supporters lauded it as a means to get a better value for taxpayers. Officials had emphasized throughout the debate that federal employees often win competitions by finding ways to reduce costs, keeping their jobs while creating better value.

Opponents rejected that argument. OMB "had developed a system that was manifestly biased toward private contractors," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, in a statement issued Nov. 13.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, called the compromise bill "a much-needed start in leveling the playing field" between employees and contractors.

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