Outsourcing panel agrees to ground rules

The final recommendations of a new General Accounting Office panel studying federal outsourcing issues will likely require the approval of two-thirds of the panel, or eight of the panel's 12 members, according to Comptroller General David Walker. Members of the GAO Commercial Activities Panel agreed to a series of ground rules during their first meeting, held May 8 at GAO. The panel agreed that its final recommendations should require the approval of more than a simple majority of panel members and that the panel would issue one final report, Walker said. "We tentatively agreed to a two-thirds requirement in order [for a recommendation] to be deemed a panel recommendation," said Walker. "We also agreed there would not be any minority reports, but that individual members would have the right to include individual statements regarding the panel's findings and recommendations if they so desired." The panel will look at issues ranging from public-private competition to implementation of the 1998 Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act. GAO was directed to convene the panel and provide recommendations to Congress by May 2002 under a provision in the fiscal 2001 Defense Authorization Act. The two-thirds threshold is significant because the panel includes two representatives of contractors and five officials in the Bush administration, which has made increasing public-private competition a top federal management goal. Requiring eight of 12 members to approve the panel's findings improves the likelihood that the panel's recommendations will have the support of most groups with a stake in outsourcing issues, according to an official familiar with the situation. "If you can't get a supramajority, [the recommendations] won't have much weight," said the official. Board member Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, characterized the two-thirds requirement as a "working" guideline that could be revisited in the future. "If we repeatedly hit two-thirds on our votes, we would revisit the process, because then we have another problem," she said. Walker emphasized that the panel could produce meaningful recommendations without finding unanimous agreement on every issue. "We have to recognize that we'll never achieve perfection in this area, and reasonable people can and will disagree, but there is a significant opportunity to make meaningful progress in this important area," he said. The panel also decided to hold three public hearings on outsourcing issues in the next few months. The first hearing will be held June 11 in Washington. The panel plans to hold hearings in Indianapolis and San Antonio, Texas, in August, according to Kelley. Walker also mentioned that the panel would break into four working groups to explore specific outsourcing issues in greater detail. "Basically the way it works is that any panel member can participate in any working group they want to," he said. "We want to make sure the working groups have one representative from each of the major groups on the panel, to ensure proper checks and balances." Members described the first meeting as a productive exchange of information. "I thought it went quite well," said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, an association representing contractors.

"I think it was really good for a first meeting, in large part because of the framework set out by David Walker," added Kelley. The time and location of the June 11 hearing in Washington will be posted on the GAO website and in the Federal Register.

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