Editorial: A-76 ? a textbook case

For most of the past four years, Bush administration officials have preached the gospel of competition.

"The administration is committed to creating a market-based government that embraces the benefits generated by competition, innovation and choice," said Angela Styles, former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, in testimony before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee last year.

"While there is a certain comfort level in maintaining the status quo, our taxpayers simply cannot afford — nor should they be asked to support — a system that operates at an unnecessarily high cost because many of its commercial activities are performed by agencies without the benefit of competition," she said during a House hearing.

The Bush administration's controversial competitive sourcing initiative seems to have found its realization at the Internal Revenue Service, where competition has resulted in greater efficiencies. In this particular case, IRS employees won a public/private competition for tax-processing work. As part of that process, the IRS team determined that efficiencies gained through technology would enable them to eliminate 218 jobs — in effect, making the agency more competitive.

To the administration's credit, the IRS example may illustrate that the battle over competitive sourcing is not quixotic. We certainly hope that IRS officials can prove how federal employees can be as efficient and effective as private-sector workers if they are given the opportunity.

We agree with union officials, however, that more should be done for potentially displaced workers. We have reported that agencies are facing a looming employee crisis as feds enter retirement age. Therefore, it does not make sense to just eliminate employees.

Four years ago, then-presidential nominee George Bush called for compassionate conservatism. In this case, feds need compassionate competition. These competitions are important to ensuring organizational efficiencies. But the public sector is different from the private sector. Therefore, employees deserve an opportunity to get trained in a different part of the business.

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