OMB touts A-76 circular revisions

Senior administration officials today touted the new guidance for agencies to compete federal jobs with the private sector as bold, appropriately decisive and reflective in a careful way.

Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the revised OMB Circular A-76 is a major step and one of the pillars to fulfill the Bush administration's promise of better management.

"When competition replaces a monopoly, the public is served better," Daniels said during a news conference at the White House today. "This new circular is the culmination of a thoughtful process that will provide substantial savings to the taxpayers."

As the White House celebrates the new circular, the American Federation of Government Employees trashed the revision. In a statement, national president Bobby L. Harnage said the new circular "will lead to greater costs to the federal government," as OMB allows contractors to "submit less responsive and more expensive bids than federal employees and still take work from federal employees."

The release of the new circular comes after two years of work, analyzing 650 agency and industry comments and the negotiating with Congress, industry, employee unions and agencies to create a new process.

Daniels said he expected some criticism.

"I'm hopeful this is seen as balanced and fair, but any time you revolutionize a process, people will feel threatened," he said.

Harnage said AFGE tried to work patiently with the administration to reform A-76, but it failed to take into account the interests of the taxpayers, customers and federal employees.

"OMB provides no new funding or resources to bolster agencies' capacities to administer service contracts," Harnage said. "These changes are merely an act to give lucrative government work to contractors without any accountability to the taxpayer."

Angela Styles, administrator for the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said agencies should start using the new process right away. Officials hope it will make a difference in moving agencies to green on the President's Management Agenda scorecard, Daniels said. OMB grades agencies quarterly on the five items on the agenda, including competitive sourcing and e-government.

"The competitive sourcing process is going too slowly," Daniels said. "We need to accelerate it, and this improved process and additional management attention will do just that."

Daniels said agencies "no longer have a legitimate excuse" of not meeting the administration's goal of competing 50 percent of all commercial positions by Sept. 2004. He added he expects a high percentage of transactions under the new rules will be completed in 30 days or less. OMB laid out a maximum 12- to 18-month time frame to complete competitions in the new circular.

Styles said any A-76 competition that agencies have not formally announced will fall under the new circular rules, including planned direct conversions. Direct conversions let agencies transfer 10 or fewer federal positions directly to the private sector without competition. The circular also says agencies may use the new process for competitions announced before the revision became effective.

"I think a lot of agencies were waiting on the new rules before making announcements," Styles said. "I think you will see agencies competing positions across the board from engineering to lifeguarding."

Harnage said AFGE will continue to support anticompetitive sourcing legislation in Congress such as the Truthfulness, Responsibility and Accountability in Contracting Act.

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