Competitive sourcing fight continues on the Hill

Congress and the administration are once again battling over competing federal commercial jobs with the private sector.

The House is debating an amendment that would restrict use of the revised Office of Management and Budget A-76 Circular. The White House and congressional Republicans have promised to defeat it.

Rep. Christopher Van Hollen (D-Md.) added a provision to the Treasury, Transportation and General Government appropriations bill that mirrors one introduced last week by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) (Related GCN.com story). The provision would require OMB to rewrite the A-76 Circular using the processes Congress described for the Defense Department in the fiscal 2005 appropriations and authorization bills, and revert to the old circular while OMB is reworking the new one.

"The Amendment I am offering would not require the use of the A-76 process that was in use prior to the 2003 rewrite," Van Hollen said in a letter to lawmakers. "Rather, it would ensure that the 2003 process is revised to make the improvements that have been recommended by Congressional lawmakers, Government Accountability Office's Comptroller General, and even OMB."

Administration officials said they would recommend a veto if the amendment made it to the president in the final bill.

"Now is the wrong time to short-circuit implementation of this principle, especially since numerous agencies are starting to make real progress in this area," the White House said in a statement of administration policy.

A House Appropriations Committee spokesman said they too would work to defeat it.

Van Hollen hopes to change the circular in a number of areas including automatic recompetition for federal employees, applying the limit of a five-year contract period to the private-sector contracts under A-76 and requiring contractor bids to be at least 10 percent less than agency proposals to offset the cost of the competitions.

'This amendment would give the Congress and the Office of Management and Budget a much-needed opportunity to correct the problems and inequities in the controversial May 2003 pro-contractor rewrite of the OMB Circular A-76 process,' he said.

The amendment received the expected support from federal employee unions and disdain from contractor groups.

'No matter how many privatization reviews uncompetitive contractors have lost, there's no denying that the 2003 rewrite is pro-contractor: Federal employees, but not contractors, are automatically recompeted,' said John Threlkeld, assistant legislative director for the American Federation of Government Employees. 'The Van Hollen amendment, along with the Mikulski amendment, would give us a chance to fix those problems on a governmentwide basis."

Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council in Arlington, Va., said the amendment is an insult to better government management.

'At a time when in-house government teams are winning 90 percent of all A-76 studies, Rep. Van Hollen and his allies in the federal employee unions only seek to build larger obstacles to impede competition,' he said.

The bill also included $5 million for the E-Government Fund, $35 million for the National Archives and Records Administration's Electronic Records Archive project and $62 million for the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy (GCN story).

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