Unions press their case against A-76

Provisions against competitive sourcing in appropriations bills are strongest yet

Federal employee unions have taken their opposition to public/private job competitions to the Democratic-controlled Congress, which has responded by nearly doubling the number of provisions in its fiscal 2008 spending bills that would limit or restrict agencies’ participation in competitive sourcing, compared with last year’s spending bills.

In all 11 agency appropriations bills, lawmakers have inserted strong language against public/private job competitions under the Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A-76 policy and expressed doubts about the benefits of the Bush administration’s competitive-sourcing efforts.

OMB officials say the Bush administration’s efforts to expand competitive sourcing are increasingly under attack. “We hear from Hill staff that they meet with employee groups all the time about competitive sourcing,” said Clay Johnson, OMB’s deputy director for management. “There is more lobbying from unions, and the change in leadership in Congress has led to more prohibitions than ever before.”

In its lobbying efforts, the National Treasury Employees Union said it focused on anti-competitive-sourcing language included in the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill. “Since the same language is in the House and Senate bills, it is very likely to be enacted,” said Colleen Kelley, NTEU’s national president.

Kelley said that bill would prohibit OMB from requiring agencies to hold public/private job competitions. “An attempt to remove the language on the House floor was defeated by a significant margin. Clearly it is the intention of Congress to limit rampant contracting out and increase the accountability of contractors.”

OMB officials said spending bills and other legislation in 2007 contain no fewer than 15 new competitive-sourcing provisions, two of which have been enacted so far.

Last year, Congress proposed eight new competitive-sourcing provisions and only one became law, officials said.

New provisions in the 2008 spending bills require approval from Congress before moving ahead to public/private competitions and would prohibit agencies from spending government funds on competitive sourcing. Lawmakers have passed but have not yet signed those spending bills.

The Defense Department has been one of the largest participants in competitive sourcing during the more than 50 years since the Circular A-76 policy was established. OMB reported that DOD competed 454 positions in 2006 and announced competitions for an additional 7,381 positions. OMB estimates that DOD saved more than $700 million from public/private job competitions in fiscal 2003 through fiscal 2005.

Notwithstanding those estimated savings, lawmakers are increasingly skeptical. Members of the House Appropriations Committee members wrote in a committee report accompanying the Defense appropriations bill that workforce outsourcing hasn’t achieved its purported savings.

That committee report states that “though clearly necessary to offset reductions in military and civilian personnel levels that occurred over time, the committee believes that the department has failed to manage adequately and oversee the growth in, and cost-effectiveness of, contracting out.”

Committee members also wrote that “despite the growing and seemingly unconstrained reliance on contractors to accomplish DOD’s mission, no system of
accountability for contract service cost or performance has been established. The committee is frustrated by the lack of accountability and management of contracted services.”

On the Senate side, Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) is concerned about whether federal workers are at a disadvantage in public/private job competitions, a committee spokeswoman said.

“The committee has heard from constituents regarding their concerns with competitive sourcing and has taken that into consideration,” she said. Language in the H
ouse and Senate version of the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill would give federal employees the right to protest to the Government Accountability Office if they lose a competitive sourcing bid and want to protest.

Johnson said myths about competitive sourcing have misled lawmakers and encouraged them “to put a poison pill in legislative packages.”

He also said OMB must do a better job of explaining the benefits of public/private job competitions to lawmakers.

“We can’t force Congress to stop prohibiting this, but we can make sure it is clear that when a member of Congress votes against competitive sourcing, they are voting against the federal government working better,” Johnson said. OMB estimates that competitive sourcing will save the government $1.3 billion in the next five to 10 years.

Johnson said OMB has begun briefing lawmakers about the benefits of competitive sourcing. “We have a new set of people to educate,” he said, referring to Democratic lawmakers now in charge.


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