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Provision could force administration to compete all commercial jobs

The White House could let private companies compete for all so-called "commercial" jobs in government-a whopping 850,000 federal jobs-if Congress blocks the Office of Management and Budget from setting targets to make agencies hold public-private job competitions, according to Angela Styles, the government's top procurement official.

Both the House and Senate versions of the Treasury-Postal Appropriations bill contain language that would block the Office of Management and Budget from using numerical targets to make federal agencies hold public-private job competitions. OMB has told agencies to compete or outsource 15 percent of their commercial jobs by October 2003, although it has acknowledged that some agencies may fall short of this target.

If OMB can't set targets, it will have no alternative but to issue a blanket policy that requires all commercial jobs in government to face private sector competition, Styles and Jack Kalavritinos, associate administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said Monday.

"Critics and those that are fighting 15 percent should be careful what they are asking for, because making it 100 percent is the other option," said Kalavritinos at a roundtable luncheon sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think-tank. "And if people push the 15, they might get 100."

"If I can't set a goal I don't know what else I can do but say our policy is [to compete all commercial jobs] without a goal," Styles said.

Styles' warning adds a new wrinkle to the debate over the proposed ban on targets, which is strongly backed by federal employee unions. Bobby Harnage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, immediately blasted OMB.

"Those comments are nothing more than blackmail, a desperate attempt to stave off a bipartisan effort in Congress to abolish the OMB privatization quotas by threatening to privatize almost 1 million federal employee jobs," he said. "On federal employee issues, Bush administration officials are completely out of control."

OMB Director Mitch Daniels has previously said that senior officials would recommend that President Bush veto the Treasury-Postal bill if it contains the provision. Bush has yet to veto any legislation approved by Congress.

But if the ban becomes law, OMB would be forced to compete all commercial jobs or give up its competitive sourcing initiative, which is one of President Bush's five governmentwide management reforms. OMB would order full competition only if Congress forbids it from setting targets, Styles said.

"It puts us in a difficult situation because Congress is telling us that we can't manage," she said. "The problem with that legislation is it restricts us from being able to sit down and come up with any [competitive sourcing] plan unless we make a bold policy statement that everything commercial has to be competed, and I'm not sure that's the right answer. But that may be what that forces us into."

The full Senate has yet to vote on the Treasury-Postal bill, and Senate opponents will try to strip the competitive sourcing provision from the bill when it comes to the floor for debate. Sens. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., and Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., have circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter urging opposition to the measure, which is championed by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

"If it had been enacted during the last administration, the amendment would have paralyzed former President Clinton's 'reinventing government' initiative, which established goals for outsourcing, workforce reduction, and other procurement and acquisition workforce initiatives," said the Sept. 11 letter.

Styles reiterated that the 15 percent target is an aggregate governmentwide goal for public-private competition. Some agencies will compete as few as 7 percent of their commercial jobs by October 2003, while others may compete up to 20 percent of such positions, she said. "If agencies can't meet the [15 percent] goal by the end of fiscal '03, well, then, put it off a year to make sure you've got a good plan," she said. "I don't see how we could be more flexible than we are on this."

Styles cited the Transportation Department as an example of a department that will not meet the 15 percent target until November 2004. The Agriculture Department, Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Agency for International Development have still not submitted "sufficient" plans for meeting the 15 percent goal, according to Styles.