AFGE steps up opposition to contractor per diem regs

fmicciche@govexec.com

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has lined up two influential Democratic senators to oppose a Clinton administration plan that the union says gives special treatment to federal contractors.

AFGE is flexing its legislative muscle in a renewed effort to stifle proposed changes in per diem and relocation regulations for federal contractors. In May 1999, the acquisition councils for civilian agencies and the Defense Department announced a proposed rule that would free contractor personnel from the maximum per diem rates under which federal employees operate. Instead, contractors would be allowed to bill "reasonable" costs for lodging, meals and incidental expenses.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) at the Office of Management and Budget has yet to take action to officially promulgate the rules.

AFGE says it is unfair to hold federal employees and government contractors to different standards. Now they've enlisted two heavyweights to join their cause.

In a letter to Kenneth Oscar, acting head of OFPP, Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., urged that the office drop its plans to free contractors from the cap imposed on federal employees.

"At a time when we are looking for ways to make employment with the federal government more attractive to enable agencies to recruit and retain the best employees in a competitive job market, adopting this proposal seems a step in the wrong direction," Lieberman and Durbin wrote.

The pair also questioned whether cost savings touted by the plan's supporters, who cite a potential reduction in auditing and contract administration expenditures, would actually be realized.

Lieberman and Durbin are joined in opposition to the proposal by Senate colleagues Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Charles Robb, D-Va., John Warner, R-Va., and Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, who signed a joint letter condemning the proposal in February.

The addition of the two veteran senators to the coalition is a major victory for the union for several reasons. Lieberman, ranking member of the Governmental Affairs Committee, and Durbin, senior Democrat on the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Restructuring and the District of Columbia, exercise a great deal of influence over federal operations. Moreover, both are purported to be on Vice President Al Gore's short list for a running mate.

AFGE is hoping that the opposition of the two senators, along with a large base of federal employees, is enough to discourage Oscar from pushing the proposal this year.

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