Panel approves pay raise, rejects OMB job competition plan

A Senate Appropriations subcommittee voted Thursday to give federal employees a 4.1 percent pay raise in fiscal 2003, after the House Appropriations Committee approved a similar hike Tuesday. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Treasury Department, Postal Service, and General Government Operations also voted to keep federal agencies from targeting a set number of federal jobs for possible outsourcing, a move that could bring the Bush administration's competitive sourcing initiative to a halt.

The outsourcing provision would prevent agencies from meeting an Office of Management and Budget target for competing federal jobs with private firms. OMB has told agencies to compete or outsource 15 percent of their commercial jobs by October 2003, although it has said that some agencies may fall short of this target. But Friday, White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels said officials would recommend that President Bush veto any legislation that curtails the competitive sourcing initiative. "We get better services through competition," said Daniels at a White House briefing on the mid-session budget review. "We are doing too much cutting of our own grass and doing of the laundry [in government]." Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., sponsored the amendment, which passed by a 4-3 vote. The full Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take up the bill on Tuesday. The amendment is identical to one offered by Rep. James Moran, D-Va., on Tuesday and the latest in a series of legislative efforts to derail OMB's competitive sourcing initiative, the most controversial part of President Bush's management agenda. The Dorgan amendment is the first such provision to be added to a bill. While the provision would prevent the White House from holding agencies to numerical targets, the administration could find other ways to encourage competitive sourcing--such as withholding funds from agencies that do not hold job competitions. As long as they did not follow a set target, agencies could also continue to contract-out work on their own under the measure. Federal unions, which have long opposed OMB's job competition targets, said the subcommittee's move would help agencies concentrate on their mission, instead of spending time on public-private job competitions. "We're very pleased," said John Threlkeld, a policy analyst with the American Federation of Government Employees. "It obviously doesn't address all our concerns about contracting-out but it would certainly be a significant improvement over the status quo." Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the provision would keep civilian agencies from directly outsourcing federal jobs to the private sector. "Because most civilian agencies have virtually no experience in conducting a fair public-private competition, in order to meet the OMB quotas, they have no choice but to contract out the federal employee jobs without competition." But a spokesman for a contractor association said the amendment needlessly interferes with the White House government reform agenda. "The president's management agenda sets for the first time reachable and realistic goals for competitive sourcing," said George Sigalos, spokesman for the Contract Services Association. "Without those goals there is absolutely no mandate for government to reform itself in all of the areas that it needs to do so."

Matthew Weinstock contributed to this story.

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