Agencies' outsourcing lists draw stiff criticism

Agencies' outsourcing lists draw stiff criticism

Rep. Dan Burton says OMB needs to provide a point of contact for the outsourcing data.

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

Agencies earlier this month published an inventory of thousands of jobs that could be outsourced to the private sector, including a relatively small number of information technology positions.

But critics of the lists, which agencies compiled and sent to the Office of Management and Budget, contend that the hard-to-interpret format works against outsourcing efforts.

The inventory of 320,000 jobs from 52 agencies suggests that one-third of the jobs are not inherently governmental and so could be outsourced, OMB officials said. An initial review indicates that only a few hundred of the jobs are in IT.

Congress mandated the lists in the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act, which President Clinton signed last October. Many Republican lawmakers said they are enraged and that the lists are a far cry from their intent.

There is no standard form to the lists, and agencies use different codes to explain their choices.

Under the FAIR Act, interested parties have 30 days to contest the lists, a daunting task because many vendors are expected to question why some jobs were left off the list.

Hard to read

Deidre A. Lee, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and OMB's acting deputy director of management, acknowledged that the lists are not easy to comprehend.

'We need to look at putting them in a more user-friendly format,' she said last week at the Industry Advisory Council's Executive Leadership Conference in Richmond, Va.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the Congressional Results Caucus, said in a letter to OMB Director Jacob Lew that the data was 'not in a format that would ever be described as user-friendly.'

'In trying to get the list of activities available for each of the [agencies], my staff ran into wrong numbers, obstinate staff and even agencies that said they were not prepared to release their lists yet,' Sessions said.

Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said in a letter to Lew that 'our concern lies in the lack of ready public access to the agency inventories. No central point of contact is provided. ' Potentially interested parties may lose valuable time seeking access to inventory materials while the 30-day clock advances.'

Lee said that a better format for publishing the lists is needed but that OMB does not want to be a central clearinghouse for this information because the decisions about what to do next rests with agencies.

The lists vary widely, Lee said. Some agencies had a high percentage of jobs that were not inherently governmental, including the departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development and the Office of Personnel Management. Some agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department, listed few outsourcing possibilities.

Prove it

If agencies do outsource, it will likely drive use of OMB Circular A-76, which sets the process for determining whether work ought to be outsourced. Agencies have criticized the process as cumbersome and bureaucratic.

Industry has also been critical of the A-76 process. 'A-76 is the only game in town right now, and it's a clumsy game,' said Stephen M. Sorrett, director of government contract services for Grant Thornton LLP of Vienna, Va. Besides being needlessly slow, he said, the process is designed to protect government jobs.

Stan Z. Soloway, deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition reform, said that although A-76 is not perfect, the private sector has won at least half of the A-76 contests. But 'I do not think A-76 is the optimum solution,' he said.

Lee said she thinks the A-76 process needs to be re-examined to see if there might be a better way.

Soloway said the FAIR Act will not mean too much to DOD. 'In reality, the effect is minimal because DOD has been on the path toward outsourcing for the last few years' as a result of budgetary pressures, he said.

DOD faces a stark reality that the money needed for modernization is not going to come from appropriated funds. Instead, the money will come from cost savings emanating from competition, he said.

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