GOP activist calls on Congress to defend competitive sourcing

A prominent conservative activist is calling on Republican leaders in Congress to block legislation that would stop public-private job competitions at select agencies, including the Forest Service and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington-based group that advocates smaller government, urged House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Majority Leader Tom Delay, R-Texas, to defend the Bush administration's competitive sourcing initiative in letters sent to the lawmakers July 2. Norquist will soon send a similar letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., according to Jonathan Collegio, Americans for Tax Reform's communications director.

Opening federal jobs to private sector competition is "as important as passing needed tax relief for the American people," said Norquist, urging Republican leaders to strip provisions from the Interior and Agriculture appropriations bills that would slow competitive sourcing at most federal land management agencies. A measure in the FAA reauthorization bill that would stop a competition involving 2,700 FAA flight service specialists, the largest competition in government, also should be dropped, Norquist said.

"Instead of promoting government bureaucracies and monopolies, Congress should strip the anti-competitive sourcing provisions from the Interior and Agriculture Appropriations and FAA bills," he said.

Norquist said "liberal lawmakers" and federal employee unions were behind the effort to derail competitions at these agencies. A union official replied that the provisions had bipartisan support, and criticized Norquist's views on government.

"Norquist is an extremely polarizing figure whose hatred for the federal government is extreme, even for the far right-wing circles in which he travels," said Brian DeWyngaert, chief of staff at the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union. "Contracting out hundreds of thousands of federal employees won't make the federal government any smaller; rather, it will just make agencies more expensive and less accountable."

Norquist has argued for cutting the federal workforce and slashing government spending and regulations. His views carry substantial weight in Republican political circles and in the White House. Last year, the White House floated the idea of raising the airport departure tax by $5 to fund the National Transportation Safety Board. Norquist fired off letters to Republican leaders and the tax idea was "dead in hours," according to Collegio.

The arguments of Norquist and other taxpayer advocates already are changing how Republican legislators view competitive sourcing, according to Carl DeMaio, president of the Performance Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based think tank that supports the administration's initiative. "Most of the members that we've spoken to had no idea this language was in these bills," he said. "A lot of the members will come back (after the July 4 recess) and get hit up by their staff on this."

Some Republicans have joined in efforts to limit competitive sourcing. The provision in the Interior bill, which would block funding for new job competitions at the Forest Service and most Interior agencies in 2004, originated in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, chaired by Rep. Charles Taylor, R-N.C. The measure was passed by the full House Appropriations Committee. The provision is Section 335 in the bill.

Reps. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., and John Shimkus, R-Ill., also have questioned a job competition at the Agriculture Department's Farm Services Agency involving about 150 workers that support farm loan programs. The House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, which would freeze funding for competitions at the Agriculture Department-including ongoing competitions-until the department issues a report to Congress on its competitive sourcing program.

DeMaio predicted that House Republican leaders would back an amendment to strip Section 335 from the Interior bill when it goes to the House floor.

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