Senate subcommittee limits competitive sourcing

Foes of competitive sourcing are praising a Senate appropriations subcommittee for passing a fiscal 2006 spending bill that includes language that would restrict the controversial practice.

A provision in the Senate Transportation, Treasury, the Judiciary, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Subcommittee’s bill would prevent agencies from converting federal jobs into private-sector contracts without allowing government workers to compete.

Competitive sourcing encourages agencies to open jobs considered not inherently governmental to competition with the private sector in an effort to cut costs.

If passed into law, the bill would prevent agencies from allowing direct conversions of functions with more than 10 jobs into the private sector. Direct conversions rarely happen, but they “sometimes do make sense from a strategic perspective,” said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, an industry association. “This bill takes that flexibility away,” he added.

But unlike many other efforts to limit competitive sourcing, this one enjoys the support of a powerful Republican, Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-Mo.), chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that passed the bill.

Maryland’s two senators, Democrats Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes, pushed for the language’s inclusion during markup.

A statement from Mikulski’s office trumpets the provision’s inclusion as part of the original spending bill rather than as an amendment added during floor proceedings. It amounts to “a huge victory in protecting federal employees from unfair contracting out procedures,” according to the statement.

Unions offered almost immediate support. “This bipartisan effort is an excellent beginning towards dealing with the multitude of problems and inequalities” of competitive sourcing, said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, a long-standing foe of competitive sourcing. The provision is a “step in the right direction,” said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

Bond has a history of backing legislation restricting competitive sourcing. He helped pass a provision in 2003 that prevents the Agriculture Department from spending money on competitive sourcing studies related to rural development or farm loan programs. The provision has been renewed annually since then and is on track to become law again this year.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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