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 and Democrats.

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 competition.)

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 suggests bias.

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 and reliability.

Bobby L. Harnage Sr.

National president

American Federation of Government Employees


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