OMB plans outsourcing crash courses

OMB competitive sourcing report with new criteria

Office of Management and Budget officials, concerned about widespread confusion regarding the Bush administration's plan for allowing industry to compete for government jobs, are seeking help in finding and disseminating information that could aid agencies dealing with the ramifications of competitive sourcing.

OMB is working with a subcommittee of the Federal Acquisition Council to assess the policies and processes in place at agencies. Officials are looking to find the best practices and discover the lessons learned from com- petitive sourcing.

Working together, officials at the agency and council also hope to develop a communication plan that would help separate "reality and myth," said Angela Styles, administrator of OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy. "We are constantly...fighting a flurry of erroneous propaganda," Styles testified at a hearing July 24.

The competitive sourcing initiative, one of five governmentwide issues on the President's Management Agenda, is focused on competing federal work deemed not to be inherently governmental.

Bush administration officials consistently say they do not want to force agencies to outsource jobs — they just want to ensure that vendors have an opportunity to compete for that work. The mandate has raised many concerns across government because few agencies are equipped to oversee such competitions, much less prepare competitive proposals.

Such concerns have brought the competitive sourcing initiative "under a hail of criticism," said Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia Subcommittee.

But everyone agrees such competitions must be fair, officials say.

The Federal Acquisition Council Competitive Sourcing Subcommittee is heading up the project, led by Scott Cameron, the Interior Department's deputy assistant secretary of performance and management, and Tom Luedtke, NASA's assistant administrator for procurement.

Education is especially important following OMB's recent decision to eliminate governmentwide goals for competing jobs. As part of its quarterly management score card, OMB has been grading agencies on their progress in meeting those objectives.

Now that officials plan to replace those goals with criteria that will be specific to each agency's situation, agencies will need to learn how to think strategically about the issue of competition, said David Walker, comptroller general at the General Accounting Office.

That requires deciding how to train the acquisition workforce that often leads the competition itself, the employees performing the function up for competition and, perhaps most importantly, the managers who will make those decisions, he said.

Agencies must change how they evaluate the quality of the work they perform and how they decide whether that work truly needs to be done by a federal employee.

Those are two of the most significant factors in determining how many positions will actually go through a competition. Explaining this difference and teaching agencies how to do these evaluations is crucial, Styles said.

Educating the federal workforce about how competitive sourcing operates at agencies — rather than just providing hypothetical situations pulled from the private sector — will be important in overcoming the "natural resistance to the changes that competitive sourcing brings,"said Jacques Gansler, professor at the Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise at the University of Maryland's School of Public Affairs.

The subcommittee's study will also help agencies and OMB examiners figure out how to fairly evaluate each agency's particular situation and plan, now that each plan will be assessed only against itself using the new criteria, Styles said.

Vocal opponents in Congress — including Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) — often claim there is not a level playing field when it comes to resources. Lieberman has sent a letter to OMB demanding answers to how the administration will move forward on competitive sourcing

Improving agencies' capabilitiesto handle competitive sourcing does have costs, although they are unclear, Styles admitted. The Defense Department, which is the only agency with extensive experience in running such competitions, estimates costs between $2,000 and $5,000 per position competed, she said.

The council's survey will help pin down details of cost to some extent, but OMB is also asking agencies to include a line item in their fiscal 2005 budget requests — to be submitted next month — outlining what is being spent on the competitive sourcing programs, Styles said.

This type of information is critical as agencies attempt to revamp their workforce to meet the new criteria for the competitive sourcing initiative, Walker said.

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