OMB: Agencies opt out of competing 500,000 commercial jobs

Contractors hoping to bid on some of the 850,000 commercial jobs in the federal government may have significantly fewer to choose from.

The Bush administration's goal of competing those jobs with the private sector hit a snag when the Office of Management and Budget analyzed job inventories and found agencies deemed 500,000 of those positions commercial but inherently governmental, meaning agencies are opting out of competing them with the private sector.

Angela Styles, Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator, today said: "OMB will take a hard look at those positions to see if they should be subject to competition."

Styles, who was a guest speaker at a discussion on outsourcing sponsored by IBM's Endowment for the Business of Government, said this was the first time agencies submitted their job inventories in a consistent manner, which enabled OMB to do the analysis.

Styles' pledge to closely review agency inventories of commercial jobs came on the heels of a House Appropriations subcommittee's addition of a provision to the Interior Department and Forest Service's fiscal 2004 funding bill that would not allow the agencies to pay for new public-private competitions next year. The Park Service, a bureau in the Interior Department, came under fire from Congress for the high cost of its competitive sourcing program.

Styles attributed the challenges to the A-76 process for public-private competition to a lack of understanding about the administration's competitive sourcing initiative.

"There is a lot of misinformation on competitive sourcing," Styles said. "Interior is one of those places that is on the edge of implementing a number of studies, and it creates controversy. We will see this at every agency as people try to pick off these efforts one by one. We will fight everyone one of these and fight them hard."

The provision would stop the Interior Department, the Forest Service and some smaller agencies from starting new competitions, but it would let the agencies finish studies started in 2002 and 2003. Interior and the other agencies would have to submit a report detailing the schedule, plans and cost estimates for future and ongoing competitive sourcing studies.

Helen Bradwell-Lynch, the Department of the Interior's director of competitive sourcing, said the provision would stop all of the agency's competitive sourcing work.

"We have no problem finishing what we have and then doing a report on what we saved or the results of program," she said. "We plan to do that ourselves so we know what we are achieving."

The Interior Department is in the middle of seven A-76 studies; all should be finished by December, Bradwell-Lynch said.

Styles added that the transition to the new OMB Circular A-76 has gone smoothly so far, with only four agencies asking for specific changes to the new rules.

"We want agencies to interpret the new circular," Styles said. "We are there to help them, but if they are not in direct conflict with the rules, they have the flexibility to do what they want within the circular's context."

Washington Technology Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery contributed to this story. Miller writes for Government Computer News.

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