Unions blast Bush on outsourcing plans

The Bush administration has an unfair pro-contractor bias, two federal union leaders said this week. In an April 30 letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels, American Federation of Government Employees President Bobby Harnage and National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley criticized recent OMB mandates that they say encourage outsourcing at the expense of federal workers. The union chiefs added that OMB is poised to make pro-contractor, anti-civil servant changes to federal outsourcing rules, possibly circumventing the work of a General Accounting Office panel that Congress created last year to study contracting issues. The panel will hold its first meeting Tuesday, May 8. "We are very skeptical of the contention of OMB officials that they are awaiting the recommendations of the GAO panel convened to examine the serious problems in federal service contracting before making changes to OMB Circular A-76," wrote the union leaders. Circular A-76 sets the rules by which private contractors bid for work performed by federal employees. Federal employees have a chance to defend their jobs under the circular's public-private competition procedures. The union leaders' letter blasts Bush administration guidance set out in two memos from OMB Deputy Director Sean O'Keefe. In a March 9 memo, O'Keefe directed agencies to complete A-76 competitions or directly outsource an estimated 42,500 jobs by October 2002. Civilian agencies will likely use direct outsourcing to meet the OMB target, preventing federal employees from competing for their jobs, according to Harnage and Kelley. O'Keefe's April 3 memo is equally problematic to the union leaders. In that memo, O'Keefe directed agencies to submit lists of jobs classified as "inherently governmental." The lists are due to OMB on June 30. Some observers say OMB may push agencies to reclassify some of those jobs as "commercial in nature," meaning more federal work could be outsourced. O'Keefe wrote that OMB would not release the lists of inherently governmental jobs to the public this year, although an OMB official added that such lists could be released at some later date. Harnage and Kelley said they are concerned that contractors would use the information to demand more outsourcing. . "Since senior acquisition personnel are all too often contractors in training, it is only a matter of time until this information is slipped, on the sly, to contractors," the letter from the union leaders said. OMB said it could not acknowledge receipt of the letter and would not comment on its contents. Despite the letter's strident tone, the unions have not ruled out working with the Bush administration on contracting issues, Kelley said. "I'm very willing to work with [the administration]," said Kelley, who is on the GAO panel studying outsourcing issues. "[But] they have not reached out to NTEU to work on these issues at all."
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