Committee approves ban on Interior job competitions

The House Appropriations Committee Wednesday approved a measure that would halt funding for new public-private job competitions at the Forest Service and most Interior Department agencies in 2004.

Opponents of the measure promised to fight it on the House floor, and a key figure in Republican political circles said conservatives would take a more active role in defending competitive sourcing.

The provision, Section 335 in the Interior Appropriations bill, would block funding for new public-private job competitions in fiscal 2004. Agencies would be allowed to finish competitions begun in 2002 and 2003, but could not start new competitions under the provision.

The measure originated in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, chaired by Rep. Charles Taylor, R-N.C. It would not prevent new job competitions at Interior's Bureau of Reclamation, which is funded by a different subcomittee.

The full Appropriations Committee endorsed Section 335 during the markup of the Interior bill Wednesday. It also approved a procedural amendment offered by Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., which moves a reporting requirement out of the measure and into the committee's report on the bill. The amendment could make it harder to strike Section 335 on procedural grounds when the full Interior Appropriations bill moves to the House floor, supporters said.

"It makes it much more difficult to attack on the floor," said Daniel Drummond, spokesman for Rep. James Moran, D-Va., who supported the Dicks amendment. Taylor supported the amendment as well, according to Drummond. "It shows a bipartisan willingness to ensure that management practices are done with public and civil servants' interests in mind," he said.

Opponents of the measure charged it would derail a signature reform of the Bush administration's management agenda, and open the door to future congressional challenges to the competitive sourcing initiative.

"This bill represents the most serious threat to the President's Management Agenda since its implementation three years ago, and if the appropriations bill reaches his desk, the president absolutely should veto it," said Carl DeMaio, president of the Performance Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based think-tank.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington-based advocacy group, said conservative associations would fight efforts to block competitive sourcing. The job competition initiative was discussed at Wednesday's meeting of the Center-Right Coalition, a group of tax reform and conservative groups that meets weekly to discuss issues of concern.

"I think all of the economic groups and tax reform groups will become more vocal on this," said Norquist. "In the same way that tax cuts are part of the conservative repertoire, contracting out is going to be a similar priority."

DeMaio said Rep. Tom Delay, R-Texas, and Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., should meet with the Republican caucus to bolster support for competitive sourcing among rank-and-file legislators. "This needs to go through Delay and Frist, and they need to express that you are either with the president on this, or against the president," he said.

Other Republicans have called for limits on competitive sourcing. Reps. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., and John Shimkus, R-Ill., have asked House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, to exempt support workers at the Farm Services Agency and Rural Development Agency from possible outsourcing. In a June 6 letter, they urged Bonilla to add language to the Agriculture bill that would classify workers in farm loan programs at these agencies as "inherently governmental."

"These programs were put in place to help socially disadvantaged, limited resource, and low-income citizens, and we are concerned that these services cannot adequately be performed through private sector institutions," she wrote. Reps. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., and William Lacy Clay, D-Mo. also signed the June 6 letter.

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