White House objects to job competition revisions

The White House has raised last-minute objections to measures governing federal job competitions in the conference report on the fiscal 2004 Transportation-Treasury budget bill, and may pressure lawmakers to alter the language, Capitol Hill and industry sources said Monday.

Measures approved by House-Senate negotiators last Wednesday night would make it easier for federal employees to prevail over private firms in job competitions. The provisions would allow in-house teams to submit bids in all A-76 studies where more than 10 jobs are at stake, and would give the agency team a cost advantage.

Last week's version of the conference report also grants federal employees the right to appeal A-76 decisions to the General Accounting Office. This provision in particular bothers the administration, according to an industry source. "They raised the red flag as soon as they saw the language," the source said.

Though lawmakers completed the conference report last week, they have yet to officially file the report. Sources said OMB and legislators may seek to alter the A-76 provisions if they are incorporated in the omnibus appropriations bill, rather than reopening conference discussions on the Treasury-Transportation bill.

During a Monday interview, Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at OMB, would not confirm that OMB is opposed to competitive sourcing language in the Transportation-Treasury conference report, saying he did not want to comment on the details of any appropriations measures.

Some Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., are opposed to the conference report language, according to Cathy Garman, vice president for public policy at the Contract Services Association.

If signed into law, the conference report would revise job competition rules for the second time this year. Some of the provisions -- particularly one that expands A-76 appeal rights for federal employees -- represent a significant change from current practice.

Federal employee unions applauded the measures, which in their view give civil servants the same A-76 appeal rights enjoyed by private contractors. Unions have long said that federal employee teams should have the ability to appeal A-76 decisions to the General Accounting Office.

"The integrity of the competition process is strengthened when agency decision-makers can be held accountable," said American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage last week in a statement. He also praised the conferees for "ensuring that the in-house workforce will be allowed to compete vigorously."

OMB's May revisions to Circular A-76, which sets rules for conducting public-private competitions, did not grant civil servants explicit A-76 appeal rights. This is one of seven "egregious problems" with the circular addressed in the Transportation-Treasury conference report, according to a Nov. 13 statement from supportive Democratic lawmakers.

But contractor groups have criticized the provisions since they were announced last week.

Peter Cohn of CongressDaily contributed to this report.

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