Bye-bye, quotas

Thomas R. Temin

No one will be sorry to see the Office of Management and Budget get rid of its outsourcing quotas.

The administration had wanted to compete 15 percent of federal jobs deemed commercial this year and 50 percent more by 2007. But OMB officials found the process of enforcing these quotas unwieldy at best.

Certainly, federal-employee unions won't be sorry. They see the outsourcing drive as an assault on their numbers and power.

Also not sorry: thoughtful federal managers who struggle daily with competing forces just to accomplish the simplest thing. For them this had to be a huge distraction. Plus, they share the unions' concern about degradation in the prestige and professionalism of federal service.

And probably not OMB officials, who now will focus on detailed negotiations with each agency over how many jobs to outsource.

Looking at competitive sourcing from an IT point of view, I've never been comfortable with the assertion that 15 percent'or 5 percent or 99 percent, for that matter'of jobs designated as nongovernmental could necessarily be done by organizations other than the government.

Look at each agency individually and the government's multitude of missions, and golly, they sure differ from one another and often from programs in industry.

Feds are not unanimous about the best approach to competitive sourcing, either.

In the military services, for example, you'll find widely divergent opinions on whether uniformed and civilian workers or contractors should do software programming.

Probably the right answer is, some combination of both.

In acquisition, the trend over the past several years has been toward giving agencies discretion in how they buy goods and services. Contractors and the government have benefited overall.

The same spirit of discretion should prevail as OMB and agencies decide who does what work. The dropping of quotas is a smart decision.

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