Letters to the Editor
That Steve Kelman should toe the contractor line comes as no surprise ("TRAC should be derailed," Federal Computer Week, Nov. 6, 2000). After all,
he testified in 1998 in favor of the infamous Freedom from Government Competition
Act, which would have competed 1.4 million federal employee jobs over five
years under a manifestly pro-contractor system.
It would have given contractors and only contractors the right to use
the courts to force agencies to take work away from federal employees. In
fact, that legislation was so extreme it was rejected by the most pro-contractor
administration in the nation's history as well as congressional Republicans
Also, although rarely noted, Mr. Kelman serves on the board of directors
of GTSI Corp., an information technology firm that derives almost all of
its income from federal contracts.
We at the American Federation of Government Employees recently had the pleasure
of working with Mr. Kelman to block proposed changes in the rules governing
reimbursement to contractors for their travel and relocation expenses that
would needlessly cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Mr. Kelman is to be commended for his part in spotlighting that contractor
rip-off. Unfortunately, his recent broadside against the Truthfulness, Responsibility
and Accountability in Contracting (TRAC) Act (S. 2841, H.R. 3766) deserves
no such plaudits.
Federal service contracting is a squalid cesspool, in large part thanks
to several years of "acquisition reform." Agencies are doing a worse job
of administering their billions of dollars worth of contracts than ever
before. As the Department of Defense inspector general revealed in testimony
before Congress earlier this year, he and his staff were "startled by the
results [of a recent] audit, because we found problems with every single
[contract surveyed]. In nearly 10 years of managing the audit office of
the IG, DOD, I do not ever recall finding problems on every item in that
large a sample."
Jacques Gansler, currently the undersecretary for acquisition, technology
and logistics and a tireless advocate for privatization whether he's working
for a contractor or implementing Pentagon procurement policies that benefit
contractors admitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the IG
was correct and that DOD needed "really significant improvements" that would
take "years" to implement.
Fortunately, the TRAC Act would require agencies to keep track of the more
than $120 billion spent on service contracting annually. Who but the bad
contractors could possibly object to such a common-sense requirement?
The TRAC legislation would also require agencies to subject new work to
public/private competition to ensure that work is given to contractors only
when the taxpayers would be well-served. Almost all work that is being performed
by federal employees or is similar to work that is being performed by federal
employees is contracted out without any public/private competition. In fact,
agencies admit that they contract out significant amounts of work that could
be performed more efficiently by federal employees because of arbitrary
in-house personnel ceilings.
Even if agencies aren't currently performing a certain type of work in-house,
who's to say that the federal government shouldn't establish such a capacity?
Private-sector firms make decisions about whether to keep new work in-house
or contract it out every day. They don't reflexively contract out new work,
as the federal government does currently.
Conservative academics like Mr. Kelman often pontificate about the importance
of running the federal government like a business. Well, that's exactly
what the TRAC Act would do. Moreover, Office of Management and Budget Circular
A-76 allows agencies to waive full-blown cost comparisons if management
can certify that in-house performance is not feasible. Again, who but contractors
whose work can't sustain scrutiny could object to such a common-sense requirement?
Federal service contracting should not be the welfare program that it has
become for too many federal service contractors.
I find Mr. Kelman's ferocious opposition to public/private competition to
be very troubling. He actually insists that it would be "insane" to ensure
that agencies demonstrate through public/private competition that contracting
out is better for taxpayers before incurring billion-dollar bills. Nothing
sums up better the pork-barrel "if it's good for contractors it's good for
America" philosophy that animates so much of "acquisition reform."
As mentioned earlier, Mr. Kelman testified in support of the Freedom from
Government Competition Act, which would have competed 1.4 million federal
employee jobs in just five years. Moreover, thanks to contractors-turned-policy-makers
in the Pentagon, DOD has embarked on a ruinous campaign to compete 230,000
federal employee jobs over five years an effort which has been and continues
to be, by all objective accounts, a money-loser. (That competition quota
notwithstanding, most work at DOD is still contracted out without any public-private
Mr. Kelman says he finds A-76 a "troubling procedure." However, we have
heard nary a peep of protest from Mr. Kelman about DOD's completely unprecedented
reliance on A-76. Here's why: Steve Kelman doesn't object to public/private
competition or A-76 when federal employee jobs are at stake. A-76 competitions
are only "insane" when contractors are finally put to the test. This inconsistency
Finally, I must express complete incredulity at Mr. Kelman's blithe assertion
that "contracting is not anti-fed." Let's look at the facts: Agencies are
contracting out more services than ever before but doing a worse job than
ever before in administering their contracts because the emphasis is on
giving work to contractors, not making sure the work is done right. Almost
no work given to contractors, whether it's new or old, is first subjected
to public/private competition. Arbitrary in-house personnel ceilings prevent
agencies from competing for work that could be performed more efficiently
by federal employees.
Although intended for insourcing as well as outsourcing, A-76 is only used
on work performed by federal employees. Thanks in large part to "acquisition
reform," federal service contracting is now completely anti-fed, a method
by which work that is or could be performed better by federal employees
is instead given to contractors, without regard to efficiency, effectiveness
Bobby L. Harnage Sr.
American Federation of Government Employees