Law could stop some A-76 studies at Defense

A provision tucked into the Defense budget bill for fiscal 2004 could force the cancellation of several public-private job competitions at the Defense Department, officials said Monday.

The measure, which caught Defense officials off guard, requires all multi-function competitions to be finished in 30 months or less, instead of 48 months, the old deadline. All competitions that have been in progress for more than 30 months-including some in which private firms already have submitted bids-conceivably could be halted by the rule change. Officials would not say how many competitions are affected by the provision.

For now, Defense officials have told the military services not to spend fiscal 2004 funds on questionable studies while they consult with department lawyers on the meaning of the provision, according to Joe Sikes, Defense's director for competitive sourcing and privatization.

"The money belongs to the services, so we just said be aware of what the language says," he said.

While the measure appears to affect all extended competitions, there is some possibility that it could apply only to new competitions started in fiscal 2004, according to Sikes. Sikes said he hoped to have a verdict on the measure from the office of Defense's general counsel by the end of the week. "We'll abide by the law, but we want to do what's good for the taxpayer at the same time," he said. The provision is part of Section 8022 of the final bill (Public Law 108-87), which President Bush signed into law on Sept. 30.

Any cancelled competitions would likely be restarted as Defense continues its competitive sourcing push, prolonging the competition process for Defense employees, Sikes said. If private companies have already submitted bids in a competition, Defense likely would have to reimburse bid and proposal costs, he added.

"If it means we have to stop some studies that are near the end, we think that doesn't make any sense," he said. "These are clearly things that are saving us money, so to stop them now after we've put all the time and money into them doesn't add up."

Officials did not know how the 30-month deadline became part of the final Defense bill. Defense officials had been focused on an amendment from Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., which tweaked how Defense will implement new competition procedures contained in Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76. Few officials were aware of the change to the time limit. "I was kind of blindsided by it," said Annie Andrews, assistant director for competitive sourcing and privatization at Defense.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which supported Kennedy's amendment, was not behind the rule change, according to a union source.

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