Air Force A-76 decision on hold pending DoD review

The Defense Department will launch a review of a controversial Air Force decision to outsource hundreds of jobs at a Texas base, a department spokesman confirmed Tuesday. Six members of Congress requested an investigation of the decision in a Dec. 15 letter to Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters. The pending DoD review is the latest development in a case involving more than 700 airfield support positions at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. On Dec. 13, the Air Force reversed an earlier decision and awarded a $336 million, 5 ½ year contract to Lackland 21st Century Services Consolidated, a California-based contractor. The decision reversed a November appellate ruling that awarded the contract to a group of employees at Lackland--a rare victory for government workers in the process of appealing decisions in public-private competitions under Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76. "We are going to do a review here," said Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a DoD spokesman. "We need to make sure things are done the right way and be sure the [A-76] process was credible and done in accordance with rules." Quigley said DoD officials have yet to decide which office at the Pentagon will conduct the review. In their letter to Peters, six members of the Texas congressional delegation-Republican Sens. Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison, GOP Reps. Henry Bonilla and Lamar Smith, and Democratic Reps. Charles A. Gonzalez and Ciro D. Rodriguez-called on the Air Force not to award a deal to the contractor until the DoD inspector general has conducted an independent investigation of the decision. "Based on the Air Force's multiple reversals of the contract award, we feel it is in the interest of all the parties involved to ensure that this process was fairly and impartially conducted," the letter said. In light of the pending DoD review, the Air Force is unlikely sign a contract with Lackland 21st Century Services Consolidated, Quigley said. "I am not aware of any near-term intent on their behalf to sign a contract," said Quigley. The Air Force based its latest decision on an analysis of the "most efficient organization" bid by the Lackland employees group. The analysis showed the employee group had miscalculated its cost projections by $8.6 million. Officials with the American Federation of Government Employees said they did not believe that figure could be accurate, since it had not appeared in two previous Air Force studies of the bids. "How is it possible that these numbers were missed, overlooked and miscalculated two times?" said Roy Flores, a national vice president of AFGE. "It calls into question [the Air Force's] ability to do an A-76 study," said Wiley Pearson, a defense policy analyst at AFGE headquarters in Washington. The Air Force explained its second change of position on the Lackland A-76 decision in a statement last week by emphasizing how close the bids of the employee group and the contractor were. The Air Force's decision was made with the blessing of Jacques Gansler, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said Air Force spokesman David Smith of the Air Education and Training Command. On Nov. 27, Gansler ordered the Air Force to take no further action on outsourcing decisions on cases at Lackland and three other Air Force Bases without his direct consultation and approval. Gansler justified his order by noting that "several significant questions" had been raised concerning recent Air Force outsourcing decisions. While details of the DoD review of the Lackland situation have yet to be finalized, it will be conducted by either the inspector general or Gansler's office, according to Quigley. In their letter to Peters, the six members of Congress said a "separate and independent investigation" by the IG was necessary to preserve the legitimacy of the A-76 process in the Air Force. "If we fail to thoroughly review … [the decision], then the entire A-76 process in the Air Force could be burdened by a cloud of illegitimacy," the letter said. The latest Air Force decision puts an end to a General Accounting Office review of the appellate ruling in the case that favored the employees. In the wake of that decision, Lackland 21st Century Services Consolidated lodged a complaint with GAO, alleging the Air Force had improperly applied A-76 provisions when it ruled in favor of the employee group. The Air Force's decision made the contractor's appeal moot, according to Daniel I. Gordon, associate general counsel at GAO. Pearson criticized the Air Force for reversing the appellate decision before GAO had time to review the case. "Why wouldn't they let GAO come to that decision?" he said. The Air Force decision, he added, "has all the justice of a Stalinist commisar."
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