VA halts A-76 studies within health agency

The Veterans Affairs Department has halted A-76 studies to contract out jobs in the Veterans Health Administration after a second legal ruling affirmed the general counsel's opinion that health care funds cannot be spent on the studies, a VA official said today.

The ruling blocks any outsourcing studies in the VA's health care agency without separate financing from Congress.

VA had continued with its competitive-sourcing studies for laundry services within VHA'the first job category it opened to competition'while awaiting clarification of the April 28 general counsel ruling, said the American Federation of Government Employees, the union representing VA workers, including those whose jobs are at risk.

The laundry services studies had been conducted for six to eight months and were near completion, and other statutory provisions appeared to allow for flexibility, said Dennis Duffy, VA principal deputy assistant secretary for policy and planning.

But a general counsel ruling Monday affirmed the April decision that the statutory language passed by Congress in 8110(a)(5), Title 38 of the U.S. Code, clearly forbids applying VA health care funds to outsourcing studies. (Click for July 3 GCN story)

The laundry services were the first major group of jobs within VHA for which VA was conducting competitive sourcing studies. The VA operates 58 laundries nationwide with 1,000 employees. VA used employee teams to define the work process and best practices of singled-out jobs.

The AFGE in a letter last week to VA Secretary Anthony Principi threatened legal action if the VA continued to use Veterans Health Administration funds to conduct the laundry studies in violation of VA's own ruling.

The union is pleased with the decision, said Ward Morrow, AFGE assistant general counsel for legislation.

Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76 mandated that federal agencies open up government jobs to the private sector by competitively sourcing those that are deemed to be commercial in nature. The union thinks differently. 'Any public job being done well by a public servant should continue to be,' Morrow said.

VHA employs 220,000 across the nation, and the bulk of those jobs are considered commercial in nature under A-76. About 52,000 employees in 18 job categories were identified earlier for possible privatization under a five-year plan through 2008, Duffy said. The jobs are support jobs and not directly related to veterans' health care. The ruling puts that plan in jeopardy.

The House last month dropped a VA request for funds in its 2004 spending bill to restart competitive-sourcing studies. The Senate could still insert funding when it debates the VA budget bill in September.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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