Funding bill restores sourcing teeth

An omnibus appropriations bill includes competitive sourcing provisions that remove some language that had blunted the rules in earlier versions of the Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies spending bill.

Competitive sourcing — a public/private competition process governed by Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76 — has been a controversial issue. OMB officials issued a revised A-76 earlier this year that critics say could cost hundreds of thousands of federal employees their jobs.

The Transportation and Treasury funding bill recently sent to a House-Senate conference committee included measures intended to restore some rights to federal workers under new competitive sourcing rules. However, Congress this week is considering a consolidated spending bill that combines several appropriations proposals, including the Treasury and Transportation bill. The combined spending bill would:

* Remove a requirement that agencies show a cost savings of at least 10 percent, or $10 million, to justify hiring a company to take work from federal employees.

* Remove an appeal process that would have allowed federal employees to complain to the General Accounting Office. Employees still have the right to appeal a sourcing decision to their own agency, as A-76 provides.

* Limit the application of a rule that allows streamlined competitions only in actions involving 10 or fewer employees to those agencies that fall under the Transportation-Treasury bill. Originally, the 10-person threshold was meant to be governmentwide.

The changes provoked guarded support from industry groups and criticism from federal employee unions.

Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, applauded Congress for removing the language. "They were on the verge of doing some things that were going to have enormous ramifications," he said. "They recognized that they were about to do something precipitous and backed out of it — wisely."

But Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, denounced the bill.

"Private contractors and their allies in the [Bush administration] were able to undo bipartisan agreement," she said. "Pressure from the [Bush administration] resulted in a bill to allow contractors to retain their unfair advantage."

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