Agencies want FAIR feedback

New guidance put out by the Office of Management and Budget will not produce

much of an improvement on the first round of agency-generated lists of activities

that could be performed by the private sector, experts said Wednesday.

The inventories, released between October 1999 and January 2000, drew

fire from vendors, unions, associations and even the agencies themselves

for being inconsistent, inaccessible and unclear.

The 1998 Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act requires agencies

to develop a list of all the functions they perform that are not considered

"inherently governmental."

But the real issue was the lack of the information people really wanted — what the business of government really is, said David Metzger, a partner

with Washington, D.C., law firm Holland & Knight LLP who helped the

Information Technology Association of America develop its challenges to

10 agency inventories.

"OMB comes off in this as simply not having done

its job," Metzger said Wednesday at the General Services Administration's

Trail Boss Roundup conference in Williamsburg, Va.

OMB did little to guide agencies through the FAIR Act process and in

evaluating submissions, according to Joan Kraft, a budget analyst responsible

for the Department of the Navy's FAIR Act submission. Whenever she or anyone

in her office called OMB for guidance, the answers changed from day to day,

she said.

OMB released new guidance April 27 in its call for Year 2000 inventories.

The changes include asking agencies for their inventories in a common format,

asking that the inventories be made available on agency World Wide Web sites,

and providing a better explanation of the "reason codes" agencies use to

justify their designation of an activity as "commercial" or "inherently

governmental."

But these changes will not be enough, Metzger said, especially because

OMB still does not require agencies to list the functions they consider

"inherently governmental."

"It's kind of like looking at a Monet picture and seeing only the green — you're only seeing half the picture," he said.

A bill introduced by Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), a FAIR Act proponent,

would require that agencies list their "inherently governmental" functions,

as well as make several other changes to the law.

But neither the new OMB guidance nor Thomas' bill will make the change

that would really make a difference, Kraft said. The most help would come

from OMB giving more feedback when first reviewing the inventories agencies

submit, she said. "Every agency has its own way of putting together its

list — but that's really when we need the most assistance," she said.

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