Union officials say A-76 protest language is too watered down

'The employees will have to prove to Congress that the provision doesn't solve the problem.'

'Former federal procurement chief Angela Styles

Henrik G. de Gyor

Unions, federal employees and the administration's former procurement chief said lawmakers missed the boat in writing a provision to give agency workers the right to protest public-private competitions.

In the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2005 passed by Congress earlier this month, lawmakers gave each official in charge of an agency's proposal, known as the agency tender official, the right to appeal OMB Circular A-76 selections to the Government Accountability Office.

What should have been a landmark decision for federal employees turned into a missed opportunity, said Angela Styles, former administrator for the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, who managed the A-76 revision during the first two years of the Bush administration. Under A-76, employee teams vie against vendors for government work.

Styles, federal officials and American Federation of Government Employees representatives said agency tender officials cannot independently represent the affected workers because their jobs are not part of the competition.

'In order for employees to file an appeal, we have to go through a senior manager whose job is not on the line and charged by the administration to carry out their privatization plans,' said John Threlkeld, a legislative representative for AFGE. 'They also are unlikely to have adequate resources to help the employees' interest.'

Union officials have accused the Bush administration of forcing lawmakers to water down the language so only a senior procurement official can act as an interested party.

Threlkeld said language in the version of the bill passed by the Senate would have given protest rights to a representative chosen by employees as well as to the agency tender official.

OMB did not return calls for comment.

Industry associations applauded the provision. Chris Jahn, president of the Contract Services Association of America, said his Washington organization supported the right of the agency tender official to file a protest.

The provision also requires tender officials to inform Congress if they determine there is no reasonable basis for protest after a majority of the affected employees request one.

But some observers believe lawmakers will not pay close enough attention to those reports. 'The employees will have to prove to Congress that the provision doesn't solve the problem,' Styles said.

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