Senate votes to modify revised job competition rule

By a slim margin, the Senate Thursday evening rejected a proposal to unravel the Office of Management and Budget's latest revisions to rules on public-private job competitions. The provision was part of the $90 billion Transportation and Treasury budget bill.

But Senate lawmakers strongly endorsed an amendment that would modify some controversial measures in OMB's May changes to Circular A-76. The amendment, offered by Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and approved by a vote of 95 to 1, would scrap a requirement that in-house teams winning job competitions re-compete for work every five years, and would also impose extensive reporting requirements on agencies conducting A-76 studies.

Senators voted down the measure to discard OMB's revised A-76 rules entirely, offered by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., by a vote of 48 to 47. Mikulski introduced the amendment to the 2004 Transportation-Treasury appropriations bill (H.R. 2989) as a companion to language introduced by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., in early September during an extensive House floor debate over the bill. The House endorsed Van Hollen's amendment by a vote of 220 to 198.

House and Senate negotiators will now need to reconcile the two versions of the legislation. President Bush has threatened to veto the appropriations bill if the final version contains any provisions hindering his administration's competitive sourcing initiative. The initiative is one component of the administration's broader, five-part federal management agenda.

In the past, conferees have eliminated language on competitive sourcing from final versions of legislation.

For instance, negotiators dropped language from the fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill that would have prohibited OMB from setting numerical targets for competitive sourcing.

Supporters argue that Van Hollen and Mikulski's proposals would not stop the Bush administration from conducting A-76 studies. Rather, the measures force OMB to rethink several controversial aspects of the revised circular, including the recompetition requirement.

But opponents say that while OMB's A-76 revisions are not perfect, they represent the first major overhaul of competitive sourcing in 20 years and are an improvement over the old guidelines. OMB arrived at the changes after extensive consultations with A-76 experts, Voinovich said during floor debate over Mikulski's amendment.

"While the amendment would not stop competitive sourcing, it would force the executive branch to use a broken process," Voinovich said.

Since 1950, administrations have exercised the "prerogative" to hold public-private job competitions, Voinovich said. Congress merely plays an oversight role, he added, and rigorous reporting requirements would help in that task.

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