GAO chief supports giving employees A-76 appeal rights

As the General Accounting Office considers whether to give federal employees appeal rights in competitions between industry and federal employees for government work, David Walker, GAO comptroller general, today told lawmakers he believes there are at least some cases where feds should be able to protest decisions that go against them.

'My personal view is if you want to create a level playing field, there are some circumstances in which they ought to have that right,' Walker said.

GAO earlier this month asked agencies and industry to comment on whether employees should have appeal rights. (Click for GCN recent coverage)

Walker, speaking before the House Government Reform Committee, told members that the Office of Management and Budget also must give agencies enough financial and technical support for the new rules in OMB Circular A-76, which were released last month.

'It costs money to run competitions; it costs money to design the bid and it costs money to train employees to take part in these competitions,' Walker said. 'On top of that, the employees have a mission to do.'

Walker suggested that the administration use the $500 million Human Capital Performance Fund to help agencies run A-76 competitions. The White House requested the performance fund for fiscal 2004 as a bonus pool to reward high-performing employees.

'It is a better use of the funds because agencies are not in a position to use the funds well,' Walker said. 'It costs money to save money, and this would help agencies in the short term.'

Angela Styles, administrator for the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said OMB is providing help.

OMB is requiring agencies to establish an A-76 program office to implement and enforce the new circular. It created a working group under the Federal Acquisition Council to address agencies' concerns. Scott Cameron, the Interior Department's deputy assistant administrator for performance and management, leads the group, Styles said.

Styles said her office would meet with agencies' competitive sourcing managers to better understand 'what, if any, agency-unique challenges management faces and how we can help them meet these challenges.'

'OMB recognizes that better guidance is one ingredient for success,' Styles said. 'Agencies need a knowledgeable and committed management support structure to implement the circular if competitive sourcing is to become an institutional force for better program performance over the long term.'

Even with OMB's support to agencies, some employee unions told lawmakers the new circular is worse than the previous one.

Colleen M. Kelley, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, asked the committee to block implementation of the new circular.

'To my dismay, A-76 does nothing to advance the principles of increasing taxpayer value and leveling the playing field,' said Kelley, whose organization has filed suit against OMB over the definition of what kind of work is 'inherently governmental.' Under A-76, work that is commercial, or not inherently part of the government's function, can be outsourced.

Bobby Harnage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the revision is part of a political agenda motivated by moving money to the private sector. He said AFGE is considering joining NTEU's lawsuit.

U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) told union leaders he would like them to submit to the committee proposed rewrites to the circular. He told Harnage that the committee could work to influence the regulatory process. He said later, however, that the committee was in the stages of gathering information about the new circular, and had no immediate plans to change the rules.

'We can legislate, but the process is burdensome' I don't think there is reason to be real optimistic from where you sit, given the current alignment' of Congress, Davis told Harnage, 'however, we can influence the regulatory process in a fairly significant way, and I'm happy to do that. I want to get a fair understanding because I don't think there is any question that competitive sourcing is a management tool that should and can be utilized.'

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