IRS still planning public-private contest for computer services

The Internal Revenue Service still plans to conduct a public-private job competition that could encompass the work of 2,000 computer services employees, despite a delay in soliciting proposals, a spokesman for the tax agency said Tuesday.

In a late September announcement, the IRS said the first draft of a request for proposals for the seat management work, which entails management of employee desktop and laptop computers, would not be issued as planned on Oct. 18. The agency also canceled a planned industry day a week later.

An IRS spokesman said Tuesday that he did not have a comment on the delay, but confirmed that the competitive sourcing study is moving forward.

The attempt to hold a competition for the computer services jobs has been called the linchpin of the agency's competitive sourcing program. It could become one of the largest public-private job contests outside the military. The work has an estimated maximum value of $1 billion over the life of the contract, according to the Reston, Va.-based market research firm Input.

Recently appointed IRS Chief Information Officer Richard Spires said last month before an industry audience that the solicitation is under consideration and the agency has not made a final decision on how to proceed.

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley told Government Executive she believes that IRS employees can perform these jobs at a lower cost than contractors. She said the union will monitor the situation closely to make sure that any competition is conducted fairly.

"I can tell you that employees are very concerned," Kelley said. "They feel like they've been in an uncertain world for too many years. It's the uncertainty hanging over their heads, which is not a good thing."

Drew Ladner, a former Treasury Department chief information officer, said organizations from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, as well as governments around the world, are significantly reducing information technology infrastructure costs through outsourcing. He said there is no reason why federal agencies will not have to do the same over time.

But large-scale seat management contracts are notoriously difficult, especially if the IRS wants to extend one over a meaningful fraction of its 100,000-member workforce, Ladner said. The success of the initiative depends on the agency's ability to define the results it wants precisely and to align performance incentives properly, he said.

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