TRAC should be derailed
- By Steve Kelman
- Nov 05, 2000
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
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
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.