Legislation would clarify A-76 protest rights

Planned legislation would clarify the rules under which federal employees can protest competitive-sourcing decisions conducted under the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76.

General Accounting Office officials ruled in late April that the law's construction denies federal employees the right to protest sourcing decisions to GAO. Comptroller General David Walker, in a letter to congressional leaders, suggested that Congress should address the issue legislatively.

Now Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, is developing a bill that would detail the rules for employee protests, said Andrea Hofelich, Collins' spokeswoman. The specifics of the bill are not yet final, however.

GAO officials said federal employees are not considered offerors under the Competition in Contracting Act of 1984 and therefore are not entitled to appeal the outcome of a competition to GAO.

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley supported Walker's call for a change in the law. "Clearly, GAO is both aware of and troubled by the unfairness of allowing only one side in a contracting decision to have the key right of appeal," she said.

The issue is not whether agency employees should be able to appeal but how far that right should extend, said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council. He advocates allowing only the Agency Tender Official, the designated leader of the federal employees in a competition, to make the decision.

Some have argued that federal employee unions or any employee displaced by competitions should also have the right to protest. Soloway disagrees.

If the right to protest is open to all affected federal employees, "are we now going to extend that to all employees of companies?" he asked. "If the company decides they don't want to roil the waters and file a protest, the employees [would have] the right to protest. If you're going to go one way, you have to go both ways, and I think you're opening a real Pandora's box."

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