FEDERAL CONTRACT LAW

At OFPP, Styles brings fresh emphasis on A-76

Joseph J. Petrillo

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy has a new administrator, Angela Styles. She has set out her agenda in statements to Congress and in an interview with me.

Expect OFPP under Styles to have both a broader and a narrower focus. How? The broader part derives from her view of the acquisition function as a cradle-to-grave activity that includes defining requirements, making sure the government gets what it pays for and following through all the way to disposing of obsolete items.

The narrower part results from Styles' conviction that procurement can't be all things to all people. Contracting officers are already heavily burdened, and she is reluctant to add to their load.

Among the specific issues, a front-burner one for the Bush administration is the competitive sourcing initiative, that is, public-private competitions under Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76. The administration is emphasizing such competitions and their potential for outsourcing as a way to improve the government's delivery of goods and services.

For a competition to lead to outsourcing, the winning bidder must be cheaper than the government by a 10-percent margin. And when work stays in-house, the government usually wins anyhow because, thanks to the competition, it comes up with a more efficient way to perform the function.

By fiscal 2002, the administration is committed to competing at least 5 percent of the jobs that are available for contracting out but currently performed by federal employees.

By the following year, the goal is a cumulative 15 percent. To help meet these goals, Styles is launching initiatives on several fronts. She is pushing compliance with the Federal Activities Inventory Reporting Act, since this is the easiest way to target areas for competitive outsourcing.

Styles is putting a spotlight on civilian agencies, noting only one, Veterans Affairs, is conducting an A-76 evaluation.

OFPP is also participating in an internal study of the A-76 process itself, to see how it can be improved. One result of this review is the recent proposal to eliminate the A-76 exemption for interservice support agreements. In the same vein, Styles opposes the Truthfulness, Responsibility and Accountability in Contracting Act, arguing that it would complicate the contracting-out process.

Another important initiative of OFPP under Styles will be dealing with what she calls the human capital crisis. The last few years of reform decimated the procurement work force. Many of the workers who remain are near retirement. OFPP must at least maintain, and likely increase, the numbers of procurement professionals in the years to come. This need is particularly pressing if the government redoubles its reliance on the private sector through contracting out.

So don't expect OFPP under Angela Styles to storm any barricades in procurement policy. On the other hand, her quieter and more balanced approach may be just what the beleaguered system needs.

Joseph J. Petrillo is an attorney with the Washington law firm of Petrillo & Powell. E-mail him at jp@petrillopowell.com.

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