High-tech companies gear up to oppose contracting bill

As more high-tech companies turn to the federal government for business after the Sept. 11 attacks, many of them are joining with a broad business coalition to oppose legislation that they say would slow down the government's ability to outsource information technology projects.

Individual companies such as Computer Sciences Corp., Electronic Data Systems, IBM, Keane Inc. and high-tech associations like the Electronic Industries Alliance, the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association, the Information Professional Services Council and the Technology Association of America have joined to block any movement on the Truthfulness, Responsibility and Accountability in Contracting (TRAC) Act, H.R. 721, a bill that has substantial support from government employee unions and the lawmakers that represent them.

"Our immediate focus is to bottle up this bill and educate members on the shortcomings of TRAC-like efforts," said Booth Jameson, director of global government affairs at EDS.

The legislation, a version of which was attached to the Defense Authorization bill last year, but stripped out during conference, is designed to force federal agencies to more effectively manage outsourcing costs and to force better contracting competition between government workers and the private sector.

Specifically, the bill temporarily would halt all new federal contracts until an agency has established a reliable reporting system to track costs and ensures no contracts be given unless there is an opportunity for public employees to bid for the contract.

"This would cripple federal outsourcing at a time when we can least afford it," Jameson said.

Opponents of the bill, like EDS, are concerned that supporters of the legislation could be successful in again getting the TRAC Act attached to defense legislation. Hence the lobbying coalition is trying to convince members of the House and Senate Armed Services and other committees not to support the legislation. Jameson said this work has garnered the support of President Bush, whose staff has promised to recommend a veto to any defense bill that contained the TRAC Act, or anything like it.

Supporters of the legislation, which include the American Federation of Government Employees, say the legislation will require federal agencies to do a better job at tracking costs and it would ensure competition. There is also flexibility in the legislation that would allow the Defense department to waive the TRAC Act rules in a time of war, said John Threlkeld, legislative representative for AFGE.

Jameson said IT companies are concerned about improving the contracting process, but believe that the best way to do so is through the work of an outside panel called the Commercial Activities Panel, which is a 12-member body authorized last year to review federal outsourcing issues. The organization is housed within the General Accounting Office and has a mandate to determine which federal jobs should be completed by government employees and which jobs can be outsourced.

The panel is supposed to submit a report to Congress on its recommendations by May 1.

Meanwhile, Jameson said his organization would continue to work to ensure that momentum does not build on the TRAC Act again. More than 180 House lawmakers are co-sponsors of H.R. 721.

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