House bills restrict competitive sourcing

Opponents of the competitive sourcing of federal jobs should be cheerful now that the House has finished voting on fiscal 2006 spending bills.

Sprinkled throughout many of the 11 House spending bills are provisions making it harder for federal agencies to pursue the policy that encourages them to cut costs by competing with the private sector for federal jobs that are not strictly governmental.

For the third consecutive year, House lawmakers have approved an amendment offered by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) prohibiting agencies from using the revised Office of Management and Budget circular that governs competitive sourcing. The House voted 222-203 June 30 to pass the amendment to the appropriations bill that funds the departments of Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, District of Columbia and Independent Agencies.

Under the Van Hollen amendment, agencies could still use the old circular for competitive sourcing. But the amendment's intent is to force another revision of the circular, ending "the administration's ideologically driven agenda to benefit private contractors over federal employees and taxpayers," Van Hollen said in a written statement.

In previous years, Van Hollen's language has been blocked in a conference committee.

House lawmakers also approved an amendment to the appropriations bill offered by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that would reverse the results of a $1.9 billion competitive sourcing bid that Lockheed Martin won earlier this year at the Federal Aviation Administration. The amendment to block Lockheed Martin from running the FAA's flight service stations passed 238-177.

Both amendments were cited in a Bush administration veto threat against a number of provisions that would water down the President's Management Agenda.

The language of the veto threat is not as aggressive as it has been in previous years, said John Threlkeld, a Capitol Hill lobbyist at the American Federation of Government Employees. The White House said it will work with Congress to uphold the contract.

According to a statement of administration policy, a veto would be likely if the appropriations bill significantly erodes the management agenda. "That's a lot of wiggle room," Threlkeld said.

Proponents of competitive sourcing are still counting on the veto threat, however, while also appealing for a larger debate on the issue of competitive sourcing.

"The current environment is so venomous right now that those discussions are few and far between now," said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, an industry association.

Through amendments and language changes, Congress poses a significant threat to competitive sourcing, Soloway said.

Language in this year's House Defense Appropriations bill would renew a requirement for private contractors to spend the same amount of money on health insurance compared with existing health coverage for civilian Defense Department employees.

In the Homeland Security Department's spending bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee affirmed House-approved language that could continue to exempt immigration officers from competitive sourcing studies.

Similarly, the full House and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a provision that prevents the Agriculture Department from spending money on competitive sourcing studies related to rural development or farm loan programs.

Congress also approved spending caps on expenditures for competitive sourcing studies at the Interior Department and Forest Service.

"Eventually it's going to cause most of the private sector simply to walk away, because they know at the end of the day the final refuge is going to be the Congress," Soloway said.

— David Perera

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