Union blasts new version of employee A-76 protest rights

Union blasts new version of employee A-76 protest rights

It seemed like a victory for feds when Congress said the agency official in charge of the government's bid in a public-private competition could protest its outcome. The provision in the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2005 said such protests of Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76 competitions would be filed with the Government Accountability Office.

But the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union of federal workers, decried the language as a 'terrible injustice' and an 'extraordinary setback.'

Union officials are accusing the Bush administration of forcing lawmakers to water down the language so only the senior procurement official, known as the agency tender official, can act as an interested party.

'This is a second-rate appeals process, and there is no reason why a federal employee should have inferior appeal rights to a contractor,' said John Threlkeld, a legislative representative for AFGE. 'In order for employees to file an appeal, we have to go through a senior manger whose job is not on the line. They also are unlikely to have adequate resources to help the employees' interest.'

Threlkeld added that the agency official in charge of the bid would have little incentive or autonomy to adequately represent the employees' interests.

'It would be a career killer for the agency official,' Threlkeld said.

Calls to the administration for comment on the issue were not immediately returned.

Threlkeld said there was language in the Senate version of the bill that gave protest rights to the agency official in charge of the bid and to a representative chosen by employees, should the agency official decide not to protest [see GCN coverage here ].

The House version of the bill was more general but closely followed recommendations by the Commercial Activities Panel to give federal employees the same protest rights contractors have before GAO and the Federal Claims court.

'The administration used its bullying influence to change this effort,' Threlkeld said. 'The language in both bills passed both chambers, and it was bipartisan. This is a tragic lost opportunity.'

Industry associations were pleased with the provision. Chris Jahn, president of the Washington-based Contract Services Association of America, said his organization supported the right of the agency tender official to file a protest.

The provision also requires tender officials to inform Congress if they determine there is no reasonable basis for protest after a majority of the employees affected by the competition request one.

The Defense Department's inspector general must submit to Congress by Feb. 1 a report addressing whether DOD has a sufficient number of employees trained to conduct A-76 competitions and whether the agency is tracking competitions.

Congress passed the final version of the bill last week. President Bush must sign it for the measure to become law.

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