Union official urges administration to test new outsourcing process

The Bush administration should test a new outsourcing method based on the "best value" procurement process before requiring agencies to use it for public-private job competitions, a federal union leader told a House panel on Wednesday. In a rebuke of the final report of the Commercial Activities Panel-a body on which he served-American Federation of Government Employees President Bobby Harnage said the administration should test new outsourcing methods before changing the existing process, which is based on Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76. By an 8-4 vote, the panel urged OMB to quickly implement the "best value" process, which allows noncost factors such as technical performance and reputation to be considered in public-private job competitions. But this recommendation, like the panel report itself, is biased in favor of contractors, Harnage said. "Given that the big contractor faction acknowledges that competitions conducted under 'best value' could take longer than those conducted under the circular, no time would be lost by continuing to use the circular…until the desirability of the alternatives had been determined," said Harnage in testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Readiness. "The members of the faction understand that their recommendation cannot stand scrutiny, and therefore insist on its immediate implementation." Fellow panelist Robert Tobias, an American University professor, echoed Harnage's comments, saying that OMB and the General Accounting Office should study the "best value" method before replacing Circular A-76. But Comptroller General David Walker, chairman of the panel, said GAO would study the new process and strongly denied that the panel was rigged to favor contractors. "I think [Harnage's] commentary here is inaccurate and unfair," said Walker. "I would like to know who the eight [panel] members were who were automatically assumed to vote one way." While panel members continue to spar over the final report, OMB has almost finished developing the new "best value" method, said Angela Styles, administrator of federal procurement policy at OMB. The method will be easy to understand and follow, Styles said. "I am not going to publish a new circular that takes a team of experts to understand and an industry of consultants to implement," she said. She added that the existing process will remain in the circular and that OMB will experiment with the "best value" method before requiring agencies to use it. "I don't think you should see this from OMB's perspective as a whole-hearted trashing of the old circular or the old process." Reps. Tom Allen, D-Maine, and Robert Andrews, D-N.J., used the hearing to quiz Michael Wynne, the Defense Department's deputy undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, on why the Pentagon opposes legislation that would let Defense employees compete for work now performed by contractors. While Wynne said this proposal would mandate a host of unnecessary job competitions at Defense and be costly to implement, he could not say exactly how much it would cost. The Allen-Andrews legislation was withdrawn during the markup of the fiscal 2003 Defense authorization bill in early May. On Tuesday, a companion measure in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., failed by a 50-49 vote. Following the hearing, Styles said OMB would revise the criteria for success in competitive sourcing on its traffic-light scorecard by the start of fiscal 2003 in October. After the revision, agencies will be able to earn a "green light" in competitive sourcing-the highest rating-even if they do not hold public-private competitions on 15 percent of their "commercial" jobs, a government-wide target set by OMB.
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