House Democrats attack OMB job competition program

A White House push to put 425,000 federal jobs up for competition with private firms came under fire from 131 House Democrats on Wednesday. They charged that the Bush administration is trying to bias the competition process in favor of contractors.

The lawmakers criticized the Office of Management and Budget for adding tough deadlines and a new "best value" competition process to OMB Circular A-76, the rulebook of federal outsourcing. These changes-which are not final and are still under review-could make it more difficult for federal employees to win job competitions, the lawmakers said.

"The new rules are biased in favor of contractors," the 131 Democrats said in a March 5 letter to OMB Director Mitch Daniels. "The new [best value] process emphasizes the use of subjective factors at the expense of objective, cost-based criteria that lead to the best service for customers and the best price for taxpayers."

The letter is the latest salvo from congressional Democrats opposed to the administration's competitive sourcing plan. It is nearly identical to a Feb. 4 letter from 35 Senate Democrats to Daniels, and repeats many of the criticisms that unions representing federal employees have directed against OMB.

Angela Styles, the administration's point-person on competitive sourcing, rebuked many of the letter's arguments. She said the new best value process will only be used in limited circumstances -- including competitions for information technology jobs -- and emphasized that the new process will treat employees fairly.

"For the vast majority of public-private competitions, cost will continute to be the deciding factor," she said. "For all competitions, cost will be a factor."

Styles also said that federal employees who win job competitions should be held accountable for their performance. A provision in the draft circular would hold victorious in-house employees to binding performance agreements.

"Our federal contractors have more than 1,800 pages of regulations to hold them accountable," she said. "In the proposed process, a team of federal employees that win a competition may have 5 pages of guidance in a circular to hold them accountable."

Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md., a longtime opponent of contracting out federal functions, orchestrated the March 5 letter. His suburban Washington district includes more than 70,000 federal employees, according to spokeswoman Amaya Smith.

Wynn's efforts drew praise from Bobby Harnage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. But Harnage questioned whether OMB would take the new letter seriously. "We have no reason to believe that OMB is paying attention to anyone other than the contractors during its rewrite of OMB Circular A-76," said Harnage.

The letter comes as OMB faces new congressional requirements to report on its competitive sourcing program. The fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations package enacted earlier this year contains a measure requiring OMB to tell Congress how it developed numerical targets for the job competition program. On Tuesday, an OMB official said the new requirement would not delay the competitive sourcing program, and that the administration would not suspend job competitions while it prepares its response to Congress.

"Some of that will be taken care of as Angela Styles continues to consult with members of Congress," said the official. "We're planning on continuing to work with the agencies as they make progress on competitive sourcing."

Rep. James Moran, D-Va., has said that OMB should halt competitions until it explains how the job competition targets were created. The budget office has told agencies to compete 15 percent of their "commercial" jobs-127,500 jobs governmentwide-by Sept. 30, although it has said some agencies will be allowed to fall short of this target.

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