House blocks competitive sourcing

OMB Statement of Administration Policy

Opponents of federal competitive sourcing scored a major victory yesterday when the House of Representatives approved a proposal to block the new rules.

The measure, offered by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), forbids the Office of Management and Budget from using fiscal 2004 funds to implement the revised OMB Circular A-76, which gives shape to the administration's plan to open many agency tasks to competition from commercial firms.

Opponents have fought hard against the new version of A-76 since it was finalized in May. Critics say it unfairly threatens the job security of hundreds of thousands of federal workers who could lose their jobs to private contractors. The Van Hollen measure allows OMB to continue using the older version of A-76.

"This is a huge victory for federal employees and tax payers," Van Hollen said in a written statement. "This legislation ensures that we have an even playing field when the federal government decides to hold a competition to contract out federal jobs and services to private contractors. Federal employees are more than willing to submit to a competitive process, but they shouldn't be asked to do it with one hand tied behind their backs."

Backers of the new A-76 — including outgoing Office of Federal Procurement Policy Administrator Angela Styles and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chair of the House Government Reform Committee — have held that the competitive sourcing process gives the government better value. They argue that whether private firms offer lower costs or federal employees find ways to do their work more efficiently, the taxpayers win either way.

The older rules had allowed competitions to stretch for years, and were burdensome enough that many agencies rarely used them, which led to the push for a revision.

The 220 to 198 passage of Van Hollen's measure, which is an amendment to the Treasury and Transportation appropriations bill, brought praise from Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

"NTEU applauds the House on its vote last night to essentially revoke these unfair changes," she said in a statement. The Senate version of the appropriations bill does not contain a similar measure, but Kelley said she will continue to forestall A-76.

The Bush administration has threatened to veto any bill that does not allow competitive sourcing to go forward.

Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement and a supporter of A-76, said he believes Van Hollen's measure won't make it to the end of the process.

"I don't think its chances of staying in are very good," he said. "It's a sweeping pronouncement and acts as if A-76 is something new to government. It's not, it's been around for years. It's been a good tool."

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