Buy Lines: Since when is competition bad?

Stan Soloway

Using sound-bite rhetoric and deliberate misinformation, opponents of competitive sourcing are simultaneously assaulting the Office of Management and Budget's May 29 revisions to Circular A-76 and engaging in guerrilla campaign tactics to ban competition, agency by agency, through legislation.

As taxpayers, we should be outraged at efforts to shackle agency flexibility and limit even the consideration of all appropriate options available to agencies to enhance their missions and improve their performance. Indeed, even as some members of Congress have described the administration's competitive sourcing goals as "arbitrary," these kinds of legislative restrictions are even more arbitrary and damaging.

The House is considering recommendations from its Appropriations Committee to prohibit competitions at agencies covered by appropriations of the departments of the Interior and Agriculture. The Senate-passed Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill has a prohibition on competition covering a wide range of air traffic control support functions.

Such assaults are likely to continue. Given the protracted and severe budgetary squeeze, a wholesale exclusion on competition at these agencies makes no political, budgetary or management sense.

Competitive sourcing is not about transferring work to the private sector. It is about using a proven management tool to achieve cost and performance improvements.

As is often the case with public-private competitions, both the Census Bureau and the Social Security Administration recently announced that their in-house teams won respective competitions. In both cases, the competition led to opportunities for agency savings and improved performance that almost certainly would not have occurred otherwise.

In fact, a new Navy study confirms again what other studies have repeatedly shown: When competition is present, the Navy's savings have averaged 43 percent. Without significant competition and using so-called strategic sourcing, the savings have averaged only about 14 percent.

Furthermore, a recent survey of government managers found that 90 percent do not believe his or her agency is delivering the high quality and efficient services that its customers and the agencies expect. These are useful perspectives from which to view the legislative battles over competitive sourcing.

Some critics claim that the A-76 revisions impose accountability and competition requirements only on government employees. In fact, the revisions bring to the government the same competitive and accountability requirements already imposed on contractors.

Some claim that the revisions "introduce a new and controversial" methodology, known as best value. In fact, the revisions only extend to a limited subset of public-private competitions the authority to consider both cost and quality factors. This has long been the standard in 98 percent of all government procurement actions.

Still others claim that competitive sourcing represents a pernicious threat to employee pay and benefits. In fact, the General Accounting Office and others have found no evidence to support that claim. Moreover, unions continue to campaign for increased federal pay based on their (likely correct) argument that private-sector employees typically are better compensated than their government counterparts.

Significant savings, improved performance and access to cutting-edge technologies are among the government's most pressing needs. If ever there was a time to promote competition and provide agencies the flexibility to find new ways of executing the government's missions -- particularly those that involve commercial activities -- this is it.

It's up to Congress to make that happen. As final actions are taken on the relevant legislation, it is important that reality take precedence over misinformation and rhetoric.

Stan Soloway is president of the Professional Services Council and previously served as deputy undersecretary of defense. His email is

About the Author

Stan Soloway is a former deputy undersecretary of Defense and former president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council. He is now the CEO of Celero Strategies.

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