TRAC should be derailed

Almost half the members of the House have co-sponsored a bill introduced

earlier this year, the Truthfulness, Responsibility and Accountability in

Contracting Act (TRAC), which is one of the major legislative priorities

of the American Federation of Government Employees.

Recently, responding to a request from about 20 members of the House

Government Reform Committee, the panel announced that it would hold hearings

on the bill — originally scheduled for mid-October — next year.

This bill, H.R. 3766, is not a pretty picture. It could literally grind

government to a halt. Basically, what TRAC does is enormously expand the

scope of the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76. It would require

a competition between government and contractor employees whenever agencies

contract for services. During the option year of such contracts, this bill

would limit those competitions to situations where the government contemplates

converting an activity from government to contractor performance.

This includes services that have always been contracted out in the past.

So, for example, the next time the General Services Administration contracted

for telecommunications services, the agency would first need an A-76 competition.

A-76 at present is a troubling procedure. It almost exclusively focuses

on cost rather than best value and demands huge investments in time and

resources.

The cost-only focus is particularly inappropriate for information technology.

Given the low government salaries in this field, agencies are often ill-equipped

to perform quality high-tech work. Nonetheless, conducting public/private

competition seems fair when an agency is contemplating disrupting existing

jobs.

However, to clone A-76 throughout federal contracting for jobs never

before done in-house is insane. Conducting A-76 competitions would become

one of the government's leading activities. The bill would create a paperwork

nightmare of agency reports to OMB on costs and performance on every agency

contract. As currently written, the bill would cover more than 20 million

contract actions a year.

It would also completely suspend contracting — which, depending on how

you interpret the bill's language, could even apply to renewals of existing

contracts — until OMB develops a reporting system.

I yield to no one in my admiration for federal employees and the job

they do. Contracting is not anti-fed. It complements the work of government

em-ployees by providing needed skills and specializations.

So it's disappointing to see AFGE — which more than anyone should have

a stake in the effective performance of government work — promote legislation

that would so severely damage the ability of government to do its job.

Kelman, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy from 1993

to 1997, is Weatherhead Professor of Public Management at Harvard's John

F. Kennedy School of Government.

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