Keep A-76 as policy

Congress should do the right thing with HR 716 and S 314. Trash them.

The bills seek to turn the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76 policies
into law. A-76 is the document that says agencies shouldn't compete with the private
sector and

should use commercial services when they're available at favorable cost.

What sparked the legislative effort? Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration
entered into a cross-service agreement with the Agriculture Department's National
Information Technology Center. The agreement seemed to violate A-76 because FAA also
sought bids for its data processing from vendors. The vendors were peeved at having been
lured into what they said was competition with the government.

It's not at all certain FAA violated A-76. Agriculture offered a lower bid to do FAA's
data processing, at least on paper, than the bidding vendors had offered. The vendors
argued that the government's use of cost data is imprecise and not comparable to the
overhead costs that companies must account for in bids.

Maybe FAA was right, maybe it was wrong. At the time of the Integrated Computing
Environment-Mainframe and Networking (ICE-MAN) contract award, neither OMB nor the
Government Accounting Office questioned the deal.

Outsourcing--or saying that outsourcing is the wave of the future--is all the rage
these days. Popular as the notion is, there's scant proof that outsourced work is cheaper
or better than work done by agencies.

Agencies must judge each case on its own merits, taking A-76 and a lot of other factors
and policies into consideration.

Making a law out of long-standing policy won't ensure better agency management. Most
likely, the law would provide a fresh stream of work for lawyers itching to bust up agency
cross-service agreements.

The recent wave of procurement reform laws is supposed to give agencies more
flexibility and discretion. But the A-76 bills sponsored in the House by Reps. John Duncan
(R-Tenn.) and Steve Horn (R-Calif.) and in the Senate by Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.)
reverse this direction.

Remedies exist for agencies that violate A-76. Besides, there's no compelling evidence
that agencies flout it with abandon. Let's not complicate sound policy that's been
standing on its own since 1955 with bills guaranteed to do nothing but generate work for
Beltway lawyers.

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