IT industry cries foul
- By George I. Seffers
- Sep 04, 2000
Information technology organizations are banding together to oppose a controversial
bill in Congress that they say could derail the growing movement toward
federal IT outsourcing and, they claim, possibly even shut down critical
functions of the government.
And although officials close to the legislation say the bill likely
will not pass this year, IT officials are concerned over its chances in
the next Congress.
The Truthfulness, Responsibility and Accountability in Contracting (TRAC)
Act is designed to force federal agencies to more effectively track outsourcing
costs and savings and to force contracting competitions between government
workers and the private sector.
Supporters say the measure will protect government jobs while saving
taxpayer dollars, but critics rebut that it will bring outsourcing to a
screeching halt, waste taxpayer dollars and maybe even force the federal
government to shut down.
Sections of the bill that have sparked controversy include:
* A temporary prohibition on all government outsourcing unless a waiver
is signed by the Office of Management and Budget.
* A requirement that all future contracting include a competition between
the public and private sectors.
* A mandatory cost-savings analysis of current contracts and the implication
that contracts with less than a 10 percent savings be canceled.
Two versions of the bill currently exist, one in the House and another
in the Senate. Two unions, the American Federation of Government Employees
and the AFL-CIO, support the bill.
AFGE President Bobby Harnage said in a recent news release, "The public
has a right to reliable and accountable public services. The TRAC Act will
help ensure that America's taxpayers get just that. This bill simply holds
contractors accountable to the same standards as federal employees."
Meanwhile, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), the
Contract Services Association and the Professional Services Council all
strongly oppose the bill and are considering writing a letter to lawmakers
that signals their opposition.
"The TRAC bill would prevent agencies from awarding new outsourcing
contracts until they can demonstrate cost savings and other benefits. This
would likely take years, if it could be accomplished at all. Introduced
at a time when a majority of federal [IT] employees are eligible for retirement
and agencies are struggling to find qualified technical personnel, the bill
has the potential to slow — if not cripple — critical government programs,"
ITAA President Harris Miller wrote in an Aug. 24 letter to Congress.
The bill has more than 190 co-sponsors in the House, mostly Democrats,
and 12 in the Senate, all Democrats, including vice presidential candidate
Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Supporters are seeking 218 House co-
sponsors because that number would ensure passage should the bill reach
a vote on the House floor.
But the bill is not expected to pass this year, in part because even
among co-sponsors support is seen more as an attempt to send a message to
the Defense Department and other agencies to quell their outsourcing movements
rather than as a real desire to make it law. But the large number of co-sponsors
is still causing concerns.
"Many of the co-sponsors have told us that they added their names since
the bill will not pass. My question to them, however, would be, what about
next year? How do you sponsor a bill one year, but then decline to sponsor
it again?" said Olga Grkavac, an executive vice president at ITAA.
Proponents of the bill say it's all about fairness. "It's about giving
people an opportunity to compete. Federal employees deserve an opportunity
to compete and to continue to perform functions they currently perform,
and the taxpayers deserve to know what the government is spending on those
functions," said a staff member for Lieberman.
George Sigalos, a spokesman for the Contract Services Association,
said his organization is taking a wait-and-see approach. "Regardless of whether
it's a Republican or Democratic Congress, it obviously will be a completely
different legislative environment," he said. "Either way, we'll take it
on again at that time."