Unions applaud A-76 changes

The compromise version of the bill that funds the Office of Management and Budget, finalized this week, is a better deal for federal employees than earlier proposals, according to federal employee unions who oppose the administration's competitive sourcing initiative.

The spending bill, which passed out of conference Wednesday, allows federal employees to develop a most efficient organization when more than 10 jobs are open to private-sector competition. Union officials say this organization gives employees a stronger competitive position.

It also grants employees the right to appeal contracting decisions to the General Accounting Office, requires agencies to show that they will save at least 10 percent or $10 million to outsource work and does not require agencies to open jobs to competition every five years, as was first proposed.

Competitive sourcing is governed by OMB Circular A-76, which the agency revised in May. Federal unions decried the Bush administration's renewed emphasis on competitive sourcing as an effort to privatize the government at the cost of federal jobs, while supporters lauded it as a means to get a better value for taxpayers. Officials emphasized throughout the debate that federal employees often win competitions by finding ways to reduce costs, keeping their jobs while still creating better value.

Opponents rejected that argument. "The Office of Management and Budget had developed a system that was manifestly biased toward private contractors," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, in a Nov. 13 statement.

Colleen Kelley, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, called the compromise bill "a much-needed start in leveling the playing field" between employees and contractors.

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