House lawmaker to renew challenge of job competition rules

Democrat is again introducing language that would force Bush administration to rethink competitive sourcing guidelines.

A House lawmaker who last fall persuaded colleagues to pass legislative language rejecting the Bush administration's May 2003 rewrite of competitive sourcing rules is trying for a repeat performance.

During House debates over the fiscal 2005 Transportation-Treasury bill, Rep. Christopher Van Hollen, D-Md., will offer an amendment that would prevent agencies from running public-private job competitions using the Office of Management and Budget's latest version of Circular A-76. The measure allows the White House a "second chance to rewrite the privatization process in a way that truly promotes the interests of taxpayers and customers, and more equitably balances the interests of federal employees and contractors," Van Hollen wrote in a Sept. 14 letter seeking support.

Under the amendment, agency officials could still let contractors bid on federal jobs considered commercial in nature, as encouraged by President Bush's competitive sourcing initiative. But they would need to revert to rules in use prior to May 2003, when OMB revised Circular A-76 in an attempt to make competitions more evenhanded.

President Bush's advisers will recommend that he veto the appropriations bill if the final version contains Van Hollen's provision. The measure would "effectively shut down" the competitive sourcing initiative, White House officials stated Tuesday.

In the letter touting the amendment, Van Hollen argued that OMB's rewrite actually "put federal employees at a disadvantage." For example, Circular A-76 allows contractors to appeal the outcomes of competitions to the Government Accountability Office and the Court of Federal Claims, but deprives civil servants of parallel legal rights, he said.

The Defense Department's appropriations bill, enacted in August, already places restrictions on competitive sourcing, Van Hollen noted. Under the law, the Pentagon must allow in-house teams to compete against contractors in any contest involving more than 10 jobs. The language also affords in-house teams a 10 percent or $10 million cost advantage in those competitions.

"Given that it is the largest agency and the one that does three-fifths of all federal service contracting, if these improvements are appropriate for the Defense Department, then they should apply to the rest of the government," Van Hollen wrote. He added that his amendment would give OMB an opportunity to incorporate the Defense law's provisions into Circular A-76.

Van Hollen offered the same provision a year ago. The House supported the measure, but the White House issued a veto threat and the Senate voted against a companion amendment. Opponents argued that the measure would have unraveled a carefully crafted, equitable version of Circular A-76.

This year, an amendment blocking the Circular A-76 rewrite, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., has passed at the subcommittee level.

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