The Pentagon will put thousands of Defense jobs up for competition with private companies in a bid to meet one of President Bush's top management reform goals, the government's top acquisition official said Thursday. Angela Styles, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget, said Defense officials agreed to comply with the White House competitive sourcing plan late Wednesday. At a meeting with Styles, Defense backed away from a Dec. 26 letter from Pete Aldridge, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, in which the department said it would not meet OMB job competition targets. Specifically, Aldridge wrote that the Pentagon would not be held to an OMB target to compete or directly convert 15 percent of all federal jobs considered "commercial" with private firms by the end of fiscal 2003. But on Wednesday, Defense committed to the 15 percent target. "We are there with Defense," said Styles following an OMB roundtable on competitive sourcing at the White House conference center. "Defense is going to meet the 15 percent goal, and they are doing exactly what we want now, which is just using [OMB Circular] A-76 and public-private competition as one tool in their tool bag for looking at how to manage their agency." Defense spokesman Glenn Flood could not confirm the Pentagon's change in position by deadline Thursday but said he "had no reason to doubt," Styles' comments. Styles said the Aldridge letter was part of a broader discussion between OMB and Defense to develop a competitive sourcing policy for the mammoth department, which for years was the only federal agency to routinely hold job competitions. The lead Defense official at the Wednesday meeting was David Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, sources said. Defense came around when OMB emphasized President Bush's personal interest in competitive sourcing, according to Styles. "I think it was just us sitting down and having discussions about the importance of this to the president, and I think they recognize that now," she said. "There are a lot of different aspects of the Defense Department, and you just have to sit down and make sure everybody was fully informed about what we were doing and where we were going." It is unclear how the Pentagon's decision will affect the outsourcing policies of the military services. Within Defense, the Navy is perhaps the biggest critic of the public-private competition process. Last year, the Navy tried to add language to the fiscal 2002 Defense authorization bill exempting Defense from OMB Circular A-76, arguing that job competitions were "overly lengthy and burdensome for the government," according to a copy of the provision. The effort failed, but Navy Secretary Gordon England announced the Navy would cease all new A-76 competitions pending a review during a Jan. 11 speech in New Bern, N.C. This freeze is still in effect but could be affected by the Pentagon's new policy, according to Capt. Kevin Wensing, a spokesman for England. With Defense on board, 11 Cabinet-level agencies have now committed to meet OMB's 15 percent target. Styles singled out the Commerce and Interior departments and the Office of Personnel Management for crafting exemplary competitive sourcing plans. "They are probably the best ones I've got right now in terms of really taking a hard look at this," she said. In late November, Interior Secretary Gale Norton said her department would hold competitions on 3,500 federal jobs over the next two years. Interior has opened a competitive sourcing center and has tied performance evaluations for members of the Senior Executive Service to how well they implement the plan. OMB is still negotiating with the departments of Energy and State over their competitive sourcing strategies, she said. For Styles' assessment of all the plans, click here.
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