Battle lines drawn on competitive sourcing

A new bill would uphold existing limits on outsourcing

Government contractors are objecting to a bill that would overturn the Bush administration's aggressive efforts to outsource agency work to contractors. 

The Correction of Longstanding Errors in Agencies’ Unsustainable Procurements (Clean Up) Act would indefinitely suspend the competitive-sourcing guidelines in Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76 and would permanently change those rules.

Introduced by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) on April 29, the bill would uphold the recent fiscal 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act’s limits on competitive sourcing. That law also put a hold on the A-76 privatization process.

Under the Act, all A-76 studies would be delayed until OMB and agency inspectors general create new policies to ensure that public and private workers can compete on a level playing field.

Mikulski’s bill would also require agencies to reclaim all inherently governmental work and work that is “closely related” to inherently governmental. Agencies also would need to keep inventories of service contracts. Inherently government jobs are those that only government employees can correctly do, but precisely which jobs those are is often a matter of opinion.

In addition, agencies must identify areas in which they have workforce shortages and develop strategies to reduce those shortages.

“This bill will be a major step toward cleaning up the contracting abuses of the last eight years and bringing jobs that were wrongly awarded to private contractors back to where they belong,” Mikulski said.

But critics say the approach is ill-advised. ”People are painting the private sector as evil and arguing that the government can do it better,” said James Jay Carafano, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “Their own research says that is stupid, and they are going to do it anyway.”

Officials at the Professional Services Council, a trade group that represents many federal contractors, said they have deep concerns about the bill.

“Given ongoing congressional efforts to foster greater competition in government contracting, why is it appropriate or beneficial to the taxpayer to prohibit similar competitive efforts when it comes to the government’s commercial activities?” wrote Stan Soloway, president of the council, in a May 5 letter to Mikulski.

Soloway is particularly concerned about the provision regarding closely related work. It would be arbitrary to ban such work when the term is so poorly defined, he said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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