Schatz: True hiring competition

The federal government is clinging to competitive hiring practices like a stubborn captain clinging to a sinking ship tied to a dock. Both are unwilling to remove themselves from a bad situation that can be easily remedied.

Federal officials often take months to fill positions, spending many hours interviewing unqualified applicants. Competitive sourcing, which establishes competition between the public and private sectors, can help the federal agencies address staffing needs while saving millions of dollars.

Although many departments and agencies effectively use private-sector firms to help them staff government positions, the Office of Personnel Management does not.

OPM also uses tax dollars for software and services developed in-house, though they are inferior to those available commercially. Actually, the agency charges a fee to other federal agencies regardless of whether they are under contract with OPM and makes 72 percent of its revenues from user fees. OPM's fee-for-service offerings are widely regarded as inferior to

private-sector solutions.

Because the agency levies a de facto tax on other agencies, it has a pool of available funds that it uses to develop products and market them competitively against commercial offerings.

OPM's hiring practices have proven

ineffective, and it has spent more than $20 million on Monster.com, when the projected cost was $2 million.

This issue is related to competitive sourcing, which usually means moving a function performed in-house to the private sector. OPM officials are developing products that compete with those from the private sector. Because they use their regulatory oversight as an incentive, officials from other agencies feel compelled to buy from OPM to protect themselves. This keeps other agencies from meeting their competitive-sourcing goals.

Relying on the private sector would help implement President Bush's management agenda, which seeks to make the government results-oriented.

On Feb. 2, the Office of Management and Budget released the latest evaluations of government programs. Along with competitive sourcing, the performance

areas consist of workforce, financial performance,

e-government and budget/performance integration. The Bush administration uses the Program Assessment Rating Tool to grade programs on a color-coded scale of red for serious flaws, yellow for intermediate performance levels and green as the standard for success.

According to OMB's evaluation, government performance improved dramatically during the past year. However, with regard to competitive sourcing, 48 percent of the agencies received a red score, and not a single agency received a green one. In other words, the federal government is shoveling taxpayer dollars into a system that does not work effectively.

Government entry into the marketplace must not seek to foreclose competition. It must compete on the merits, so that buyers are free to purchase the products and services that best meet their needs.

OPM has an unfair advantage while competing against the private sector. To top it off, it does a poor job. Agency officials need to stop spending money

on inefficient hiring practices and search out a better private-sector solution.

Schatz is president of Citizens Against Government Waste and its lobbying arm, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste.

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