AF outsourcing plan draws darts

AF outsourcing plan draws darts


Nearly 900 federal employees anxiously wait to hear whether they will lose their jobs as an investigation into an Air Force outsourcing deal continues with no end in sight.

The Defense Department's inspector general has been reviewing the controversial A-76 competition at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio. And a senior Pentagon office has completed a separate review. Both the reviews began just before the end of the Clinton administration.

The Air Education and Training Command awarded the five-year, $352 million contract to a group of companies dubbed Lackland 21st Century Services Consolidated. The joint venture includes Computer Sciences Corp., Del-Jen Inc. of Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., and Tecom Industries Inc. of Chatsworth, Calif.

At the heart of the dispute is whether the Lackland 21st Century team or a group of Air Force employees submitted the lowest bid to oversee the base's systems and communications operations, as well as other maintenance services.

The divisive deal may linger as a blemish on A-76 competitions, which are typically fraught with tension, said a defense policy analyst with the American Federation of Government Employees.

Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76, which dates to the Eisenhower administration, established procedures for determining whether an agency's activities should be performed by a vendor or in-house.

'The consequences of this are pretty profound,' union spokesman Wiley Pearson said. 'How can we convince our people that there is fairness and justice in the system when something like this occurs? Who's kidding who?'

In the competition, a group of employees based at Lackland and the adjacent Kelly Air Force Base took on the joint venture to retain control of work at the base.

But the service concluded that Lackland 21st Century was the low bidder.

The federal workers contend that they offered the more competitive bid. They pleaded their case up the service's chain of command. And in November, Air Force brass initially agreed and pulled the plug on the award to Lackland 21st Century.

The service's decision prompted the vendors to file a protest with the General Accounting Office. One month later, Air Force officials reversed themselves again. The service reiterated its determination that the vendor team was the low bidder.

'I want to know where every penny will be saved by turning to an outside contractor.'
'Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez
The flip-flop caught the eye of some members of the Texas congressional delegation, who on Dec. 15 fired off a letter to then-Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters demanding an IG review. Sens. Phil Gramm (R) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R), and Reps. Ciro D. Rodriguez (D), Henry Bonilla (R), Charles A. Gonzalez (D) and Lamar S. Smith (R) jointly expressed their concern.

The lawmakers pointed out that Lackland 21st Century's bid was lower than the federal team's by a negligible margin: 0.2 percent. Circular A-76 requires that an industry bid beat a government bid by 10 percent.

In its letter, the delegation cited 'procedural inequities' that included 'confused contract evaluations, a flawed cost comparison study [and] miscalculations.'

'I want to know how the Air Force arrived at the cost comparison figures used to evaluate the two contracts, and I want to know where every penny will be saved by turning to an outside contractor,' Rodriguez said in a separate letter to the IG.

The Capitol Hill inquiry raised eyebrows in the Pentagon. Then-deputy Defense secretary Rudy de Leon directed Jacques Gansler, then-undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, to review the competition and recommend any necessary changes. The Defense IG meanwhile began its own investigation.

Select review

The Pentagon review looked specifically at procurement administration, DOD spokesman Glenn Flood said. The recommendations were submitted to the service and the IG, but Flood would not comment on them.

A Lackland Air Force Base spokesman also declined to comment , citing the IG investigation. Similarly, CSC officials would not comment, and a Defense spokeswoman would only confirm that the IG review is ongoing.

Lackland 21st Century has announced that it will hire about 1,000 people, giving the outsourced base workers first dibs on jobs.


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