House scraps Pentagon job competition provisions

The House removed a series of measures in the Defense authorization bill on Tuesday that would have limited outsourcing and allowed Defense employees to compete for work that is traditionally reserved for contractors. The House scrapped Hawaii Democrat Rep. Neil Abercrombie's "in-sourcing" provision, which sought to let federal employees compete for thousands of jobs currently held by Defense contractors. Lawmakers also removed strict caps on the number of federal jobs that Defense could include in new outsourcing studies, paving the way for Defense to start studying 13,000 jobs for potential outsourcing in fiscal 2002. The Bush administration opposed both the "in-sourcing" measure and the cap on competitions, which it deemed "inconsistent" with the administration's competitive sourcing initiative. The provisions were removed through a manager's amendment to the bill introduced by Reps. Bob Stump, R-Ariz., and Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the leaders of the House Armed Services Committee. Rep. Abercrombie agreed to support the amendment after the House Republican leadership threatened to scuttle the entire authorization bill over his "in-sourcing" provision, according to Mike Slackman, an Abercrombie spokesman. "The bottom line for Mr. Abercrombie is he did not want to use this fight to sink the entire bill," said Slackman. Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., filed a motion to reinstate Abercrombie's provision late Tuesday. It failed by a 221-197 vote. The House Rules Committee approved the manager's amendment Monday night. Democrats on the committee worked to keep Abercrombie's provision in the bill, according to Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, ranking minority member on the Committee. "I'm disappointed the manager's amendment strips out Rep. Abercrombie's [provision]," Frost said on the House floor. "I hope we can revisit the issue at a later date." The manager's amendment includes two new curbs on the Pentagon's competitive sourcing program. The first limits Defense to beginning only half of all new outsourcing studies planned for fiscal 2002 before May 1, or before a General Accounting Office panel studying outsourcing issues delivers its final report. The second mandates that private firms must submit a bid that is at least 10 percent lower than the bid of an in-house team to win a public-private job competition. This would tweak federal contracting rules, which currently allow a private firm to win a job competition if it offers savings of $10 million, or 10 percent more savings than the in-house bid.

While Abercrombie wanted a complete overhaul of the Defense Department's outsourcing policy, he believes the smaller curbs send a signal to the department, according to Slackman. "It's less than what Congressman Abercrombie wanted, but it keeps the issue alive," said Slackman. Slackman added that opposition from the House Republican leadership, and not the Bush administration, led Abercrombie to withdraw his provision. "[The Bush administration] is not what stopped him," said Slackman. "If anything, the pressure from the administration sort of confirmed his own view that he was doing the right thing." The House action removes all but one item that the Bush administration had identified as a deterrent to its competitive sourcing program: Section 333, which would revive an Army study requiring contractors to submit information on the workforce to the Defense Department. The study was halted in June when Defense and the Office of Management and Budget concluded the study had violated federal rulemaking procedures. Late Monday, the administration announced it opposed a measure in the bill championed by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., which would cut 13,000 employees from the Defense acquisition workforce. "This cut would severely damage the quality and cost-management of weapon system programs aimed at ensuring the long-term superiority of America's armed forces," said a release from OMB. The Hunter provision is still part of the Defense bill.

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