Law could stop A-76 studies for thousands of Defense employees

About 60 public-private job competitions involving thousands of Defense Department workers could be cancelled because they have taken too long, violating a tight new time limit for competitions included in the Defense budget bill for fiscal 2004, a Defense official said Wednesday.

Joe Sikes, Defense's director for competitive sourcing and privatization, said the department is still studying how to respond to the measure, which requires all multi-function job competitions to be finished in 30 months or less, down from 48 months, the old deadline. But he said Defense may have little choice but to cancel ongoing competitions that have been under way for more than 30 months.

"It looks unlikely that there is any way to interpret it other than it looks," he said of the provision. "I'm particularly worried about studies where we were near a decision and put substantial time and resources into it, and we would have to stop prior to implementing a decision."

Pentagon officials have told the military services not to spend fiscal 2004 funds on questionable studies-essentially putting them on hold-until they reach a final verdict on the provision. The measure is Section 8022 of the final Defense appropriations bill (Public Law 108-87), which President Bush signed into law on Sept. 30. It applies only to Defense.

Sikes said the number of Defense workers involved in competitions that could be scuttled is "less than 10,000." Many are in the Navy, which has started more competitions than the other military services in recent years. The Army, the largest military service, initiated competitions on just 1,324 jobs between 1999 and 2002.

Sikes said that potential cancellations would not hold up Defense efforts to comply with the Bush administration's competitive sourcing agenda. Defense has classified 270,600 jobs, or 45 percent of its nonmilitary workforce, as potentially eligible for competition.

"In terms of our total scorecard number, it's not a huge number," he said. "But it is significant relatively to places where significant work has gone into [a competition] and they are nearing a decision to make the government more efficient."

Defense officials are still exploring alternatives to cancellation, including legislative relief, according to Sikes. He said he was still not sure who backed the shorter time limit, which was included in the conference report on the appropriations bill.

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