House committee adds 'in-sourcing' amendment to Defense bill

Federal employees would be able to compete for thousands of jobs currently held by Pentagon contractors under a measure approved by the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday.

During markup of the Defense Authorization bill, (H.R. 2586), the committee passed an amendment by Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, that directs the Pentagon to subject equal numbers of government and contractor jobs to public-private job competitions each year. At present, only jobs performed by federal employees are routinely subject to public-private competitions at the Defense Department. "This might be called an in-sourcing amendment," said Abercrombie in introducing the amendment. "It doesn't prevent outsourcing." The amendment also sets annual targets for letting public employees bid on new work at the Pentagon once it is identified. For example, in fiscal 2003, federal workers would be able to compete for 10 percent of all new projects. This provision would change federal contracting rules, which currently make the private sector the default provider of new work that is commercial in nature. The Abercrombie amendment, which was opposed by contractor groups including the Contract Services Association, passed by a 34-25 vote. Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Penn., chairman of the Subcommittee on Military Readiness, led the opposition to the amendment, arguing it would interfere with a General Accounting Office panel studying federal outsourcing policy. Congress created the panel in last year's Defense Authorization bill. "If we take steps while the [GAO] committee is meeting, I think our integrity is questioned because we created the committee," said Weldon. The GAO panel is slated to deliver recommendations to Congress by March of next year. Abercrombie responded with a withering critique of how the Defense Department handles outsourcing decisions, saying that Defense tries to bypass public-private competition to reward contractors. "They don't want to do [public-private] competitions because then they can't deal with their [contractor] pals," he said, alleging that the Pentagon tries to award contracts to private firms that are led by retired senior officers. Abercrombie added that Pentagon officials had been circulating a legislative alert from the National Defense Industry Association, a nonprofit group that advocates a strong defense industrial base. The alert likened his amendment to union-backed outsourcing legislation. "I've got the Pentagon sending out legislative alerts [calling my amendment] the TRAC amendment," Abercrombie said, referring to the Truthfulness, Responsibility, and Accountability in Contracting (TRAC) bill introduced by Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md in February. "I didn't think truthfulness, responsibility, or accountability was a bad thing, but apparently [Pentagon officials] think it is." The Abercrombie amendment is now part of the Defense Authorization bill, which will be introduced on the House floor after the August recess.

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