Industry urged to challenge agencies on outsourcing

A senior federal official today encouraged industry to investigate and question how agencies determine what government jobs can be contracted out to the private sector, reinforcing the Clinton administration's commitment to a new procurement reform law.

The new law, the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act, requires federal agencies to compile lists of government jobs or functions that might be good candidates for outsourcing. The act does not, however, force agencies to contract out such functions. Rather, it allows them to determine on their own which job categories can be contracted out and which jobs are "inherently governmental" and not suitable for outsourcing. The act also allows industry to challenge any agency's decision.

"You need to understand that [the Office of Management and Budget] is taking the FAIR Act very seriously," said Dave Childs, senior program examiner at OMB. Childs spoke today at a breakfast sponsored by Federal Sources Inc., a consulting firm specializing in federal information technology procurement. "Some of [the agency inventories of activities] are good [and] some of them are really bad," he said. "We have returned agency inventories. We have said no."

Childs encouraged industry to raise questions for agencies and investigate their activity inventories, which list thousands of jobs performed by federal employees. "I can't police 1.3 million employees," Childs said. "You've got to challenge these inventories."

Childs' call to industry, however, comes on the heels of criticism that the Clinton administration, particularly OMB, has not taken the FAIR Act seriously. Criticism of OMB's approach climaxed late last month when about 50 agencies released a motley array of separate inventories in various formats.

"This is the absolute minimalist approach, and it does not vest in the Executive Office of the President or OMB the kind of high-level stewardship that we believe the act clearly intended," Bert Concklin, president of the Professional Services Council, told Federal Computer Week last month. Concklin's association includes government contractors whose members come largely from the IT industry.

Members of Congress also criticized federal agencies' adherence to the FAIR Act. "The lists were not released in a spirit of openness for fair government competition and did not use the technology readily available to make the process of getting the lists manageable," said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) last month in a letter to OMB Director Jacob Lew. "In trying to get the list of activities available for each of the 50 [agencies] released, my staff ran into wrong numbers, obstinate staff and even agencies that said they had not prepared the lists yet."

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