Feds stay competitive

Recent public/private sector competitions show insider knowledge is a real advantage

Federal employees beat private contract employees in 19 of 22 public/private job competitions that four science agencies conducted from fiscal 2003 through fiscal 2005. Science agency officials said insider knowledge gives agency employees an advantage over their private-sector competitors.

The Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A-76 policy allows companies to take over certain jobs performed by federal employees if they can do the work more efficiently.

The Government Accountability Office reported in March that federal employees won 86 percent of recent A-76 job competitions within the Energy Department, NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Competitive-sourcing officials in those agencies said they expected agency organizations would continue to win similar public/private competitions because their organizations have already contracted out most jobs requiring relatively lower levels of expertise, such as building cleaning and general maintenance.

“The remaining activities are more complex and require greater knowledge about agency operations, which officials said gives agency employees an advantage,” GAO also reported.

Denny O’Brien, director of DOE’s Competitive Sourcing Office, said incumbents always have that built-in advantage, but it is not insurmountable. The private sector can win by being more creative, he said. Job competitions improve government, no matter who wins, he added. 

Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, said he agrees that A-76 job    competitions are beneficial. “The A-76 process requires agencies to regularly rethink the balance between public and private operations to get the most from resources that rarely match the amount of work that needs doing,” Gordon said. The committee commissioned the GAO report.

According to that report, officials of science agencies estimated that the 19 public/private job competitions that the agencies won will save the government $583 million. The three competitions won by  the private sector will save an estimated $45 million.

DOE held seven competitions and expects to save $532.5 million. NASA estimates $46 million in savings from two competitions. The EPA  expects to save $3.6 million from 11 competitions, and NOAA  estimates $1.2 million in savings from two competitions, according to the report.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology held no competitions during the three-year period. Commerce Department officials, who oversee NIST, said no commercial activities at NIST would have brought a good return on investment.

The Office of Management and Budget told Congress last year that it estimated $5.5 billion in savings based on competitions governmentwide during the same three-year period.

OMB, which oversees A-76 job competitions, recently asked federal agencies to do more than report expected savings. OMB officials now want documented savings.  In a memo issued April 13, OMB asked federal agencies to report their job competition costs and performance data. “These are critical steps to ensure the long-term success of the competitive sourcing initiative,” said Clay Johnson, OMB’s deputy director for management.

O’Brien said he supports the new reporting requirements. “The mandate…will add credibility to the process,” he said.


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