Will Trump and Mulvaney bring back A-76?

The use of A-76 competitions to let private contractors bid on some work done by federal employees could be set for a resurgence.

Shutterstock image. Copyright: Albert H. Teich
 

Some contracting experts expect the Donald Trump administration to revive A-76 competitions to give private firms the chance to bid on work performed by federal employees.

With the selection of Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) to be director of the Office of Management and Budget and President-elect Donald Trump's business-first sensibilities, analysts say contractors soon could find a more amenable atmosphere to bid on work done by federal employees.

"I think [that with] some of the people coming in and President-elect Trump's focus on federal jobs, government employees and contracts, there may be some kind of re-visitation of A-76 contracting," said Michael Hettinger, a former top aide on the House Oversight committee and president and managing principal of government market strategy and advisory firm Hettinger Strategy Group.

Mulvaney is a budget hawk, and in Congress is a leader in the Freedom Caucus group which preferred default on the debt to extending the debt limit by law.

And Trump, in criticizing the costs of both a new Air Force One and the military's next-generation F-35 fighter jet, has signaled that he's watching at least some aspects of federal acquisition closely. (In a Dec. 22 tweet, Trump said because of concerns about F-35 cost overruns, he had "asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!")

Mulvaney served on the Government Operations subcommittee of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee and is familiar with inside-baseball federal management issues, including the idea of reviving A-76 competitions for federal procurement. During a hearing last July, he and other committee members indicated an interest in reviving those competitions, named for the A-76 OMB circular, which allow private contractors to bid on work currently being done by federal employees.

The competitions were administratively eliminated before the start of President Barack Obama's administration, and legislatively proscribed in a 2011 appropriations bill. It would take both congressional action and an appetite on the administrative side from OMB to bring back A-76 competitions.

The appetite seems to be there. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the subcommittee's ranking member, said during the July hearing that revising A-76 could lead to better contract management for increasingly technical IT projects. He also said the practice of insourcing by government agencies is no better than the practice of outsourcing to industry.

"One is intrinsically not better than the other," Connolly said, adding that decisions should be based on agencies' needs and capabilities.

Hettinger predicted that if the Senate confirms Mulvaney for the OMB job, "that look at A-76 may come relatively quickly."

"It depends on who is coming on at OMB, their understanding of the processes and President-elect Trump's vision for the federal government," Hettinger said. "It's not a top-drawer issue, but in six months," after some of the incoming administration's marquee issues, such as repealing the Health Care Act and imposing new restrictions on immigration, have been addressed, "it could come up."

And even if Mulvaney's nomination runs into problems, Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners, said the A-76 reconsideration is probably inevitable under a more business-oriented Trump administration.

"The incoming Republican congress," he said, "means a reversal of policies like A-76." The A-76 moratorium, he said, is one of the likely targets of the traditional ideological reckoning that happens when the Congress and the White House change party hands.

While the president-elect is keeping an eye on "big ticket" acquisitions like Air Force One and the F-35, IT acquisition issues are probably lower on the priority list, Allen and Hettinger agreed, but it doesn't necessarily mean they will be invisible.

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