War could delay Pentagon job competitions

Public-private job competitions at military installations could be put on hold or even cancelled as troops mobilize for the war on terrorism, a Defense Department official said Monday. In times of declared war or military mobilization, the rules of Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76 that govern job competitions do not apply to the Defense Department. The Pentagon can still contract-out federal jobs, but can bypass the cost comparison process that gives federal employees a chance to compete for their jobs. Defense became exempt from Circular A-76 when President Bush called-up reserves in mid-September, according to Joe Sikes, director of competitive sourcing and privatization at the Pentagon. But installations that are not affected by the mobilization should continue their competitions, he said. "We want installations to provide all the protections and level playing field for federal workers that are provided for [under Circular A-76]," said Sikes. "We expect them to follow the same steps even though they're not mandated right now." Defense hopes to issue guidance next week that spells out how A-76 competitions should be run during the mobilization, Sikes said. In it, installations will be asked to justify to the Pentagon any cancellation of a competition before proceeding. Defense officials expect competitions to be delayed at installations that have been involved in the war effort, said Sikes. "We would expect there would be some delays, since people had to focus on something else," he said. "What we're telling people is, 'Hey, we're fighting a war, do what you need to do. But if you decide to cancel something, we'd like to know before you cancel it,'" Sikes was unaware of any installations that had cancelled competitions since the mobilization began but said Army officials at Fort Dix, N.J., had told him that their competition would likely be delayed. Public-private job competitions have continued during military campaigns before. The Air Force conducted job competitions in the midst of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1991. The Defense Department had 399 public-private competitions involving more than 31,000 civilian jobs under way at the end of last year. Both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and OMB Deputy Director Sean O'Keefe have said business reforms such as base closures and competitive sourcing are more important to the Pentagon in wartime. OMB's competitive sourcing goals still apply to the Pentagon, and Rumsfeld is continuing his "battle against bureaucracy," with the intent of slashing military headquarters staff by 15 percent worldwide. Rumsfeld's effort has been endorsed by the House Appropriations Committee, which voted to cut funding for headquarters staff by more than $230 million in the fiscal 2002 Defense Appropriations bill. Sikes said Defense should be "in the ballpark" of OMB's competition target for fiscal 2002, which is to compete or outsource 5 percent of all federal jobs considered commercial in nature. But whether Defense meets the target may depend on whether the department can count jobs that were competed before OMB started its competition push in March, he said. Defense is the only major agency that held job competitions before the Bush administration mandate.