House Democrats plan "in-sourcing" amendment for Defense bill

By Jason Peckenpaugh

April 30, 2002

Two House Democrats plan to resurrect a proposal that would let civil servants compete for thousands of jobs held by Pentagon contractors at the House Armed Services Committee's markup session on the Defense Authorization bill Wednesday.

Reps. Thomas Allen, D-Maine, and Robert Andrews, D-N.J., will offer an amendment to the Defense bill that would force the Pentagon to subject equal numbers of contractor and government jobs to public-private competition each year. The measure, which is similar to one championed last year by Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, and federal employee unions, would also allow Defense to try alternatives to the standard federal outsourcing process on a limited basis.

Specifically, Defense could experiment with outsourcing techniques outlined in Part 15 of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), to see whether those techniques are more effective than Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76, which governs current outsourcing decisions. A congressionally mandated panel, in contrast, has proposed that Circular A-76 be largely replaced by a new procedure based on the FAR.

The amendment would also require Defense to let federal employees bid on set amounts of newly identified work at the Pentagon. In fiscal 2004, for example, federal workers could compete for 10 percent of all new projects. This provision would amend Circular A-76, which makes the private sector the default provider of new work that is commercial in nature.

In addition, the entire Defense Department would have to use an Army method for counting its contractor workforce under the amendment.

The amendment has already prompted a war of words between the unions that support it and the contractors who hope to defeat it. Gary Engebretson, president of the Contract Services Administration, a Washington-based trade association, said the measure would cripple the Defense Department. "The amendment would so radically hamstring Defense that the department would be unable to execute its many and increasingly complex missions," he said.

An official with the American Federation of Government Employees blasted this statement. "That's the usual hysteria from a contractor flack who is terrified at the prospect that contractors might actually be subjected to public-private competition," said John Threlkeld, a lobbyist with AFGE. "The measure clearly allows Defense sufficient flexibility to serve the interests of warfighters and taxpayers through a greater use of public-private competition."

Engebretson and others allege the amendment is similar to the union-backed Truthfulness, Responsibility, and Accountability in Contracting (TRAC) bill sponsored by Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md.

At a March 13 hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Readiness, Angela Styles, the government's top procurement official, said advisors would recommend that President Bush veto the Defense bill if it contained the TRAC provision.

By Jason Peckenpaugh

April 30, 2002