Legislation allowing federal employees to compete for virtually all government contracts would cause “irreparable harm” to national security, according to 12 retired senior military officers.
Legislation allowing federal employees to compete for virtually all government contracts would cause "irreparable harm" to national security, according to 12 retired senior military officers. In a June 29 letter sent to every member of Congress, the officers said the union-backed Truthfulness, Responsibility and Accountability in Contracting (TRAC) Act would disrupt crucial partnerships between the military and private sector, putting missions at risk. Retired officers who signed the letter included Navy Adm. William Crowe, Adm. David Jeremiah, Adm. Wesley McDonald, Adm. William Owens and Vice Adm. William Hancock; Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, Gen. Robert RisCassi and Gen. William Tuttle Jr.; Air Force Gen. Michael Carns and Gen. Thomas Moorman Jr.; and Marine Corps Gen. Richard Hearney and Gen. Carl Mundy Jr. "We are not opposed to giving government employees fair opportunities to compete for work under reasonable rules of public-private competition," said the officers. "We are, however, absolutely opposed to legislation that will, by any definition, severely and irreparably harm national security. And that is just what the TRAC Act will do." This criticism drew howls from the president of the American Federation of Government Employees. "It kind of ticked me off," said Bobby Harnage, who testified in support of the TRAC Act last month at a hearing of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy. "Here are some high-ranking military people who should be as concerned with national security as we are, trying to kill a piece of legislation that would accomplish 80 percent of what they are looking for," said Harnage. Many of the retired officers now work for contractors. Owens is co-chief executive officer of Teledesic LLC, a global satellite communications firm. Jeremiah is president of Technology Strategies and Alliances Corporation, an investment firm with holdings in the aerospace and defense industries. Tuttle is president and chief executive officer of the Logistics Management Institute, a Va.-based consulting firm that has indefinite deliverly/indefinite quantity contracts with several agencies. Hearney is president and chief executive officer of the Business Executives for National Security, an umbrella group of business executives that organized the letter. The TRAC legislation is H.R. 721 in the House and S. 1152 in the Senate. The House version would place a moratorium on new contracting until agencies reviewed recent contracts to make sure the government is getting a good deal from its contractors; the Senate version would give agencies six months to complete this review before the moratorium went into effect. Both versions would require agencies to hold public-private job competitions before contracting out new work, although the Senate bill would exempt contracts worth less than $1 million, scientific and technical, and construction contracts from the competition mandate. In the view of the retired brass, these provisions risk national security by mandating unnecessary public-private competitions and limiting military access to private sector technologies. "[TRAC] does not clearly define when or under what circumstances that [outsourcing] moratorium will be lifted, but if it is lifted, the legislation requires that all new contracts … be subject to public-private competitions, regardless of whether the government has the personnel or technologies to perform the work," said the officers. The legislation does allow the Office of Management and Budget to exempt certain contracts from the outsourcing moratorium for national security reasons. But this exemption is not enough to keep the bill from adversely affecting the Pentagon, according to Michael Doubleday, vice president for communications at Business Executives for National Security. "If you look at what [Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld is attempting to do…it seems to indicate that they have very strong plans to look at outsourcing as one possible way of increasing the efficiency of the commercial activities the Pentagon does," said Doubleday. Harnage said the contracting moratorium would not bring government to a halt, as the officers and the Bush administration have alleged. "We don't want to shut ourselves down," he said. "We wanted [the moratorium] for enforcement purposes. We wanted some assurance that once [Congress] passed this legislation there would be some enforcement. If [Congress] could come up with a better mechanism, we're willing to talk about it." Harnage also contested the officers' argument that Congress should wait for the recommendations of a General Accounting Office panel studying outsourcing issues before considering the TRAC Act. "The President of the United States isn't slowing down his pace to see what the panel does. "If [the officers] want me to back off on the TRAC Act, [the administration] should back off on the 5 percent compete and convert requirement." The Bush administration has required agencies to directly outsource or perform public-private competitions on 5 percent, or 42,500, of all commercial positions in government by October 2002.