USDA spending bill limits competitive sourcing

The House late Wednesday passed the fiscal 2006 spending bill for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, with language limiting competitive sourcing. The vote on HR 2744 was 408-18.

The Appropriations Committee approved blocking use of funds for competitive sourcing relating to rural development or farm loan programs without congressional approval. The administration said earlier this week it 'strongly opposed' the wording and urged its removal in a White House statement of policy, although it did not threaten a veto if the bill passed over its objections.

Agriculture is expected to save $174 million over the next five years as a result of competitions last year, the White House said.

Lawmakers also want Agriculture to market and expand the cross-agency services of its National Finance Center, such as e-payroll consolidation services, but it cannot contract out activities without committee approval.

The committee earmarked $124.6 million for shared systems and services for the department's continued Common Computing Environment, which will modernize the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service and Rural Development agencies at the county-office level.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would receive $33.3 million toward its animal identification systems to help prevent mad cow and other disease breakouts. Lawmakers are closely watching the ID system development for issues of data use and confidentiality, applicability to different species, links to current systems used by state veterinarians and costs, and are requiring quarterly progress reports.

The House approved $16.8 billion in discretionary funding for Agriculture, the same amount that was enacted last year, which is $93 million more than what President Bush requested. The Senate still must pass its version of the bill.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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