Administration modifies definition of success in job competition effort

The Bush administration will no longer require federal agencies to finish public-private job competitions on 425,000 federal jobs before they can receive top marks for success in competitive sourcing, a Bush official said Thursday.

In a small but potentially significant shift in how the administration defines achievement in competitive sourcing-the administration's effort to open federal jobs to private sector competition-Bush officials now say that agencies can earn a stamp of approval from the Office of Management and Budget for simply beginning competitions on their portion of the 425,000 target. The move could allow agencies to more quickly claim success in competitive sourcing.

But OMB stressed that agencies must prove they are well on their way to meeting previously established targets for competing half of their jobs classified as commercial in nature under the 1998 Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act before they can receive a "green" rating on the administration's traffic-light-style management scorecard.

"The agency needs a plan to get to 50 percent, we need to see initiation of the 50 percent, and make a judgment that that agency is on a clear path toward achieving the competition of 50 percent," said an OMB official. "To get a green, OMB has to feel very confident that competitions will be happening."

Previously, agencies were required to actually finish competitions to get a green rating for competitive sourcing. The criterion was included in the administration's fiscal 2003 budget and is located at Results.gov, the Web site for the President's Management Agenda: "Complete public-private competition or direct conversion competition on not less than 50 percent of the full-time equivalent employees listed on the approved FAIR Act inventories."

The shift in goals could make it easier for OMB to claim overall success in competitive sourcing, said Donald Kettl, a professor of public affairs and political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"It lowers the bar by allowing agencies to 'get to green' if they devise a plan, as opposed to actually reaching the target," said Kettl. "And by making it easier to 'get to green,' it might later make it easier for the administration to point to success in the initiative and, in the process, build political support for the idea."

The 50 percent goal is being tweaked as part of the administration's "Proud to Be" review, a goal-setting exercise that seeks to move agencies out of "red," or failing, status on the five-point management agenda by July 1, 2004. The review asks agencies and administration officials to define where they would be "proud to be" by the July 1 deadline.

The definition of green for another initiative, performance budgeting, was also revised through the "Proud to Be" review to give added weight to OMB's Performance Assessment Rating Tool (PART), a method for rating federal programs, according to Clay Johnson, President Bush's nominee to be deputy director for management at OMB.

"In this exercise, we've clarified some things with regard to competitive sourcing and we made the PART score a bigger part of the budget performance and integration exercise," Johnson said Thursday in a speech at a National Academy of Public Administration conference in Washington. "When we first launched the President's Management Agenda, we didn't realize just how vital a tool the PART could be," he said.

Johnson said the "Proud to Be" review does not make the management goals easier to reach. "We're not adjusting the goals," he said. "We're not saying, 'Make it easier,' or 'Make it harder.' The goals are the same. The goals are to get to green."

The revised definition of success in job competitions appears in an assessment of competitive sourcing that Johnson shared with the President's Management Council, a group of agency management chiefs, on April 17. The assessment, from Office of Federal Procurement Policy Administrator Angela Styles, is one of five evaluations by the "owners" of the five initiatives in the management agenda of progress they would like to see by July 1, 2004.

Styles also proposed that agencies complete 10 standard competitions and meet tight new time frames for finishing competitions to be eligible for a green rating. Neither of these requirements were part of OMB's original standards to receive a green.

In his Thursday speech, Johnson said that by July 2004, OMB wants competitive sourcing to be a standard business practice across government.

"Most importantly, each agency will have in place the key personnel to conduct these competitions to ensure they are fair," he said. "There's a lot of concern that we don't have the infrastructure in place to ensure employees that these are going to be fair reviews and to ensure tax that if the decision is made to go outside [to do the work] these relationships can be managed with benefits to the taxpayer."

Johnson did not mention the 50 percent target, or any numerical goals for competitive sourcing, which have stirred opposition on Capitol Hill. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., placed a hold on Johnson's nomination in part to protest OMB's competitive sourcing effort. "The privatization effort is the driving force behind the management agenda," said Tom Gavin, a spokesman for Byrd.

Byrd lifted the hold on Friday.

Johnson noted that agencies believe they can exceed OMB's expectations for management progress by July 2004, a sign that the reform effort has taken root in federal agencies.

"What's really interesting is they think they can be further down the path to green than the initiative owners do," he told the National Academy of Public Administration audience, which included several federal managers. "Our role at OMB is to help you get there, not to push you there, and not to whip up enthusiasm," he said. "You've got plenty of enthusiasm."

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