Critics attack A-76

OMB Circular A-76

In the weeks since the new rules governing private-sector competition for government jobs became final May 29, federal employee unions have taken both legal and legislative action in attempts to block the measure's implementation — or at least blunt its force.

Bush administration officials insist that most federal employees have nothing to fear from the revised Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76 and that even those who lose competitions are likely to be reassigned or take jobs with winning contractors.

Critics charge that the new circular is biased against federal employees. OMB officials want agencies to identify commercial jobs using the circular and hold competitions for at least 15 percent of them by next summer. But that is a goal, not a requirement.

The House Government Reform Committee held a hearing late last week on A-76's implementation, with members of both parties expressing concern about its effect on the federal workforce.

"We need to be careful that we don't destroy the morale of federal employees who wonder if every three or five years their job is up for grabs and they're out on the street," said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the committee.

"It's a hard pill for people to swallow or believe, but we really don't care if the job is done by the public [sector] or the private sector," said Angela Styles, administrator of OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy and an A-76 architect.

The idea of outsourcing has raised fears, especially among federal employee unions, that hundreds of thousands of federal workers could be displaced if they lose competitions to private-sector companies. Many displaced workers are nearing retirement age and could take early retirement, while contractors hire others, according to Styles and other A-76 advocates.

Comptroller General David Walker admitted that some federal workers would lose their jobs. "There's no question there's going to be a decline in the federal workforce as a result of these competitions," he said.

Styles said competition should be a positive force in government. "It's a morale boost to employees when they win, and they win more than 50 percent of the time," she said.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking minority member on the committee, said the revised circular is part of a long chain of Bush administration actions hostile to federal workers. "This administration has virtually declared war on federal employees," he said.

***

Circling around OMB Circular A-76

There have been a number of developments since the Bush administration released its update of Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76 in May, including:

* The National Treasury Em- ployees Union filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the circular conflicts with federal law and therefore "illegally trumps Congress."

* The Senate has introduced legislation that would exempt the Agriculture Department's Forest Service from competitions and forbid the use of fiscal 2004 funds to initiate new A-76 studies for the Interior Department.

* The General Accounting Office is soliciting public comments on whether federal workers who lose a competition have the right to appeal to GAO.

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