House panel puts new limits on job competitions

The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday approved provisions that would place new limits on efforts to put jobs at the Defense Department and other agencies up for competition from private firms.

Panel members passed an amendment to the fiscal 2008 Defense authorization act (H.R. 1585) sponsored by Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., that would give Defense officials discretion in deciding whether to recompete work that remains in-house following a public-private competition.

The measure also would push the department to develop guidance on insourcing, or switching work from a contractor to civilian federal employees. The fiscal 2006 authorization act had a similar requirement, and panel members approved an incentive for the department to comply by prohibiting new competitions under the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76 until the guidance is published.

In a provision addressing a long-standing grievance of federal labor unions, the bill would expand protest rights so any elected representative of employees affected by a competition could file a challenge, rather than just the agency official designated as responsible for the in-house bid.

The measure also would prevent contractors from gaining a cost advantage by offering health or retirement benefits cheaper than those provided to federal employees. The health-related condition has been included in past appropriations bills, while the retirement component passed in the Senate appropriations language last year, but was ultimately stripped out in conference negotiations. If the measures are included in the final authorization act they will become permanent law, rather than expiring at the end of the fiscal year with spending provisions.

One ambitious provision in the 2008 authorization measure would restrict OMB from influencing Defense decisions to conduct competitions, while another would suspend all ongoing Defense competitions and require a new assessment of whether to continue each one.

Defense officials would be obligated to catalog the work done by contractors, and a new analysis would be required assessing any potential savings from restructuring processes other than public-private competitions.

In addition, under the measure all agencies must notify Congress of their intention to announce a competition.

On Thursday, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Federation of Federal Employees welcomed passage of the amendment, which AFGE described in a statement as "ambitious and comprehensive."

Over each of the past several years, the House has passed language to completely block competitive sourcing in some civilian agencies, but such provisions have been taken out during House-Senate conference negotiations.

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