NAPA studies impact of A-76

The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) has completed a first-year assessment of the Forest Service’s Information Solutions Organization, a federal employee group that won an Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76 competitive sourcing competition a year ago. Because such organizations are relatively new but growing, NAPA said the study’s findings could be useful to other federal agencies.

The employee groups are known as most efficient organizations (MEOs) in the policy language of A-76. That policy requires federal agencies to form MEOs and invite companies to bid against them to win contracts for information technology infrastructure support or other jobs that are not inherently a function of government. “This is a new way of managing a government-run operation,” NAPA states in its report.

NAPA found that the Forest Service’s Information Solutions Organization had a relatively successful first year but that it was not without problems. For example, because it remains subject to federal employee, budgeting and purchasing regulations, the MEO cannot respond to changing workloads as quickly as Forest Service officials had anticipated.

The employee organization operates under a letter of obligation, which is similar to a contract. That agreement establishes the amount of money the MEO will receive and the IT service standards that it must meet.

Besides facing budget constraints, the MEO also has morale problems, according to the NAPA report. The reorganization of IT services placed unusual stress on employees in the Information Solutions Organization. “Its employees are subject to new and stressful performance requirements and to major transformations in their job responsibilities, organizational relationships and workloads,” the report states. That situation created morale and attrition problems that cannot be ignored, NAPA wrote.

Before the reorganization, the Forest Service had 1,260 full-time employees providing support for desktop and laptop PCs, servers, computer software, network connections, information security, voice and video telecommunications, and radios. Now, the Forest Service has 568 full-time federal employees providing that support. They report to the agency’s Information Resources Management Office, which has about 100 full-time federal employees.

NAPA concluded that it is too early to tell how much the A-76 competition and reorganization has improved IT services at the Forest Service. The pared-down IT organization has done well enough that the Forest Service has extended its letter of obligation for another year.

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