Changes sought to stop A-76

Two proposed amendments to the Transportation-Treasury Appropriations bill could effectively block the Office of Management and Budget's ability to enforce its competitive sourcing rules during the 2004 fiscal year.

The proposals would forbid OMB, which is funded through the bill, from using its appropriations to carry out Circular A-76, which governs the designation of federal jobs as either inherently government or commercial. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D.-Md.) plans a sweeping amendment that would simply forbid OMB to use its funding to implement A-76. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D.-Fla.) plans a more selective amendment that would only block certain parts of the circular.

Rep. Tom Davis (R.-Va.) sent a letter to his colleagues urging them to oppose the amendments. Davis said that competitive sourcing leads to better values for taxpayers, regardless of who wins the competitions.

"Competitive sourcing is not the same as outsourcing or privatization," he wrote. "Its purpose is neither to downsize the workforce nor to contract the jobs out. It is about harnessing the benefits of competition to produce superior performance for the taxpayer, regardless of who performs the services."

The new A-76 is not as benign as the older law, Van Hollen said in his own letter to colleagues. He cited contractors who have said that the new rule will decrease the number of competitions won by federal employees from around 60 percent to as little as 10 percent.

Appropriations bills for the Interior and Agriculture departments have already passed the House with added competitive sourcing restrictions, Van Hollen said. He added that his amendment "would give OMB a second chance to rewrite the privatization process in a way that truly promotes the interests of taxpayers and customers and more equitably balances the interests of federal employees and contractors."

Van Hollen said his amendment would let OMB use the previous version of A-76 until the process is more satisfactorily revised, unlike provisions in other spending bills that would halt all new privatization efforts.

David Goldenberg, senior legislative assistant in Hastings' office, said Hastings' amendment would forbid OMB to use the funds to conduct new inventories of commercial and governmental jobs. It would also bar use of A-76's streamlined competition process.

The Hastings amendment also forbids OMB from subjecting federal employees to automatic recompetitions every five years, a condition A-76 does not impose on contractors.

"There's nothing stopping the government from using the inventories it already has," Goldenberg said. "There's nothing preventing the government form using the standard competition process. My boss feels like it's a fair compromise. It gives federal employees a fair shake."

Hastings supports the Van Hollen amendment as well, Goldenberg said.

Lawmakers have recently seemed more willing to resist the Bush administration's agenda, said Richard Brown, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees. "Of course you're coming into an election year," he said. "Will they aggressively alienate the federal employees as they have been? The federal employees are not going to forget what has happened, and they'll act accordingly at the polls. What we're seeing now is politicians on both sides of the aisle go against the president's initiatives. People are finally starting to grow some."

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