Debating competitive sourcing

Foes of the Bush administration's policy of competitively sourcing jobs in the federal workplace make no bones about their presidential contest choice: Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)

"This is a class war about silver spoon George Bush and the regular working man in this country," said Richard Laubach, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 2419. "I only hope and pray that we'll see him gone very shortly."

In a speech last April, Kerry pledged to reduce government contractors by 100,000, a vow that Kerry's campaign representatives say is an implicit criticism of the Bush administration's competitive sourcing efforts. "The policy has become an end in and of itself, that in the long run will cost taxpayers more money, not less," campaign officials said in a prepared statement. "That is why he is proposing to cut the number of contractors."

But election-year oratory could bump up against presidential reality, according to some political observers who predict that competitive sourcing is not likely to go away.

A recent Office of Management and Budget report states that completed competitive sourcing studies will save the government $1.1 billion during the next three to five years. Although some critics dispute the study's conclusion, others say it might be impossible for any administration during a tight budget era to turn its back on a cost-saving policy.

"You can't put the [competitive sourcing] genie back in the bottle," said Robert Atkinson, vice president of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), an offshoot of the Democratic Leadership Council. Atkinson also sits on a policy team that advises the Kerry campaign on government reform.

Whether competitive sourcing has become an inevitable part of the government landscape is still being debated. One union official called its certainty wishful thinking by proponents. But Kerry advisers said contractors will continue to play a role in government. Under a Kerry administration, "you won't go back to an old model where everything is done by government employees," Atkinson said.

However, campaign advisers said Kerry would put less emphasis on competitive sourcing. "No one is questioning whether contractors...can save us money," said Paul Weinstein, PPI's chief operating officer and co-chairman of Kerry's government reform advisory committee.

As president, Kerry would shift the cost-savings drive away from competitive sourcing, and he would order fewer studies, Atkinson said. The Bush administration's approach to reinventing government "is pretty much a single note," he added.

Before new studies could commence, the administration would first conduct

an exhaustive inventory of existing

contracts, Weinstein said. "We don't have, right now, a good sense or understanding [of] how many contracts there are, what they all do, how much they're saving us," he said.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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