A-76: Not all there

Bureaucratus column: Vendors must be held to the same binding performance agreements as agencies

Procurement czar Angela Styles said the final version of the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76 would likely include the current definition of "inherently governmental" work, which by law is off-limits for outsourcing.

In the November 2002 draft version of the revised A-76, OMB proposed a new definition of "inherently governmental" that would have made virtually any government job eligible for outsourcing. Apparently, cooler heads have prevailed and that idea has been abandoned, at least for now.

But Styles, who is administrator of OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said the final circular will still include stringent deadlines for completing job competitions between the public and private sectors and will mandate that federal agencies that win competitions be held to binding performance agreements. If agencies fail to meet those goals, the agency could hold another competition, she said.

That is all fine and good as long as the same procedure is applied to private-sector firms. But will such a standard prevail? I doubt it.

Michael Wynne, deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said performance agreements were needed to make in-house employees fulfill the terms of their bids. He had the gall to tell a congressional committee, "We've had a very hard time getting [feds] to stand up to anything other than the projected costs of their work." Yeah, as though private-sector contractors always mean what they say and say what they mean.

For as long as I can remember, "contracting out" vis-a-vis Circular A-76 has always been favored by the administration in power. It is rumored that the government now employs (indirectly) more contractors than federal workers.

Styles told a congressional committee that OMB had not decided whether the final version of circular A-76 would contain a 12-month deadline for competitions that was included in the draft. She said, "That's a decision from OMB Director [Mitchell] Daniels, and he's pretty firm on the 12-month requirement, but there are complex studies that will take longer than 12 months."

Officials from many agencies and the General Accounting Office have said in their comments on the proposed revision that the one-year period is unrealistic.

Meanwhile, the Defense Business Initiatives Council, a trade group, is continuing to fashion alternatives to A-76 that could be used to compete some Defense jobs that are not currently candidates for competition. These alternatives would be part of a Defense Department plan to compete 226,000 positions — or half of its commercial jobs — that would be part of DOD's fiscal 2005 budget request. Grim days ahead for feds as long as this administration is in power.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at milt.zall@verizon.net.

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