Bills target competition goals

'The one-size-fits-all mentality is not fair to the agency and the public it is serving.'

'Rep. Jim Moran

Lawmakers have taken steps to eliminate the Office of Management and Budget's ability to set quotas for public-private competitions of federal work.

Twin provisions in the House and Senate Treasury-Postal appropriations bills would 'effectively shut down' the Bush administration's competitive sourcing initiative, senior administration officials said.

The administration's goal of opening 15 percent of federal jobs that are not inherently governmental to competition is arbitrary and inflexible, critics have said. The Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act required agencies to identify jobs that potentially could be done by contractors.

The administration set a governmentwide goal for agencies to open about 127,500 commercial positions to private competition by 2003.

The House last month passed its version of the bill, while the Senate still must vote on it. The provision has caused such a stir that President Bush is threatening to veto any bill with such language.

'Many federal managers felt they were losing control of the process,' said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who co-sponsored the provision. 'The cart is going before the horse. Any number should fall into place only after careful analysis of what types of jobs need to be competed. Not by applying some arbitrary number across the board.'

Starting point

Angela Styles, Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator, disagreed with the argument that the goal is arbitrary.

'There is a lot of misconception here,' she said. 'We do not see this as arbitrary or a quota. This is a starting point for each agency and, unfortunately, the only way to measure progress.'

Styles said OFPP would have preferred to measure progress by the amount of savings or improved performance, but the 15 percent goal was the best method because so many agencies were starting from scratch in performing public-private competitions.

'We want agencies to build the infrastructure for these competitions,' she said. 'We will presume if they reach 15 percent they have spent the time assessing the positions, have people on board who know how to run the competitions and understand the entire process.'
Moran and others, however, are unconvinced.

'The decision to contract out should be driven by the needs of the project at hand,' said Barry Piatt, spokesman for Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.). He and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) co-sponsored the Senate's provision.

In a floor statement, Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.) said that nine studies by the General Accounting Office in 1994 and an Army study in 1998 all found that the government saved money by using federal workers rather than contractor employees.

Piatt said the quotas restrict the flexibility of federal managers to do what they think is best for their agencies.

'If it makes sense for an agency to contract out 5 percent, but the other 10 doesn't make sense, under this quota, they are still responsible to compete the jobs,' he said. 'That is not flexible, nor is it good government.'

Styles said OFPP meets with agency officials quarterly to discuss their progress and has worked with managers to establish well- thought-out plans.

'We have committed to making sure every single agency has a plan that makes sense for them,' she said.

Steve Sorett, a lawyer with the Washington firm of Reed Smith who specializes in government contract law, said if the provision becomes law, it will affect the Defense Department and civilian agencies differently. He said DOD already is so far ahead in competing federal positions that the lack of a goal will make no difference.

But because civilian agency use of public-private competitions has been spotty, the loss of a goal would force OMB to find some other way to get them moving, Sorett said.

Best efforts

'OMB has a lot of other [enforcement powers] such as the budget,' he said. 'It really should be based on best efforts, but not hard-and- fast goals. I think that was what OMB was trying to do.'

Styles said OFPP is working with members of the Senate to have the provision removed from its bill. She said she would not be surprised if it gets changed or taken out.

Moran said he would introduce the provision next session if it is removed.

'The one-size-fits-all mentality is not fair to the agency and the public it is serving,' Moran said. 'What they are looking for is a body count. The provision will get things back in the right order, which is for managers to determine which jobs should be competed.'

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above