VA freezes A-76 studies at VHA

The Department of Veterans Affairs has imposed a moratorium on competitive sourcing studies that would have affected thousands of employees at the Veterans Health Administration.

VA officials planned to study 52,000 employees in the VHA, projecting savings of $1.3 billion over the next five years that the VA would channel back into providing services, said Dennis Duffy, principal deputy assistant secretary for policy and planning.

In late April, however, the agency's general counsel ruled that the competitions were covered under a federal law that forbids the department to fund such studies within the VHA unless Congress earmarks money specifically for that purpose. The agency also may not use its employees to carry out the studies without specific authorizations.

"The issue for us is that it directly impacts our Veterans Health Administration," Duffy said. "Better than 90 percent of our workforce works within the Veterans Health Administration. The 52,000 positions that we had agreed to study were all ancillary support functions within the Veterans Health Administration."

Now the agency will have to wait for authorization from Congress. If there is a supplemental funding bill this year, VA will try to get the funds appropriated then, Duffy said. If there isn't, the studies will probably be on hold until fiscal 2004 begins.

However, the setback doesn't change the agency's commitment to competitive sourcing, he said. "We recognize that we need to make our organization as efficient and effective as we possibly can," he said "It doesn't change the focus, it doesn't change the strategy. It is, we hope, a temporary moratorium."

The employees studied will perform tasks including laundry service, grounds maintenance and food service, he said. Some biomedical research functions could be affected, but no information technology.

The agency has agreed to hold off on conducting A-76 studies on IT employees until a reorganization that former chief information officer John Gauss implemented is complete, Duffy said.

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