Hill mulls new guidelines

The staffs of House and Senate oversight committees began work this month on legislation that would set guidelines for competition between government agencies and industry for federal contracts.

A staff member on the Senate Committee for Governmental Affairs said members hope to produce language that would help create a "level playing field" for competition between private and public organizations. The law would cover future procurements including those similar to the controversial $250 million Integrated Computing Environment-Mainframe and Networking contract a data processing contract that the Federal Aviation Administration awarded to the Agriculture Department.

Sources said Rep. Steven Horn (R-Calif.) chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee's Subcommittee on Government Management Information and Technology is working on similar language.

A Senate source said the new legislation would soften languag e in the unsuccessful Freedom from Government Competition Act which has failed in the past two years to garner enough support from Congress or the Clinton administration. The legislation called for agencies to outsource all their operations deemed "nongovernmental."

"At some point it became clear to proponents of last year's legislation that the idea that everything should go to the private sector wasn't working too well because it was so offensive to the people in government " the source said.

Work on both sides of Capitol Hill was at least partially initiated by concerns from industry that federal agencies were competing unfairly for work better performed by private companies. A loose coalition of federal contractors circulated a model version of the "Best-Value Competition Act of 1998" to House and Senate staff members that sparked much of the work on the issue.

Stan Soloway a consultant with the Contract Services Association said the industry language addresses some of the criticisms level ed at previous versions. It still calls for greater outsourcing but recognizes that the federal government may compete for its own work.

By requiring agencies to select vendors offering the best value instead of simply the lowest cost the new language "seeks to level the playing field" between the government and industry competitors Soloway said.

Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76 which currently guides cross-agency procurements focuses solely on best price.

"The overall idea is to create a system in which the goods and services the government is procuring [are] bought through best value " Soloway said.

The industry language would require federal procurement agencies to analyze and compare all facets of proposals from private and public offerors including all direct and indirect costs the offerors' qualifications and their past performance.

The Senate source agreed that the best-value idea improved upon the A-76 method of focusing on price alone. But she indicated that t he industry bill fell short.

She declined to comment on how the Senate version might improve upon the industry language adding that "it may not be possible" for Congress to develop an acceptable solution.

House committee staff who were working on their version of the bill could not be reached for comment.

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