Letter to the Editor

Tell the whole story on A-76 regulations

I must make two points about the article, "Congressional opposition catches White House by surprise," in your Sept. 29 issue, which discussed the growing bipartisan opposition to the Bush administration's massive effort to privatize federal employee jobs.

The article stated: "A return to the old circular, which the Van Hollen amendment calls for, 'is a vote for unfairness,' [Clay Johnson III, deputy director for management in the Office of Management and Budget] said." That is clearly false, and your reporter should have called him on it. The Van Hollen Amendment would defund the controversial May 29 rewrite, period. It would not require a return to the old circular.

But don't take my word for it. Take the word of House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., who led the unsuccessful effort to defeat the Van Hollen Amendment. As he said on the House floor during the debate: "?(S)ince OMB Circular A-76 is not a regulation but is simply an OMB Circular, OMB can put out another provision tomorrow with minor revisions that we cannot touch. It could be worse, it could be better ? So they could come back, issue a new circular tomorrow that would be very similar, could be more onerous, and we could not stop that ?"

Although much space is devoted to OMB's charges that there is "misinformation" surrounding the administration's privatization agenda, the only example cited ? lifted straight from a contractor association press release ? was so minor as to be pedantic. OMB is encouraging agencies to use streamlined competitions in lieu of direct conversions. Based on the experience of the Department of Defense, the majority of competitions under the fundamentally flawed May 29 rewrite will not require that contractors at least promise appreciable savings before taking work from federal employees. That's a fact, however difficult it is for contractors and OMB to face.

With respect to promoting a healthy debate over the administration's wholesale privatization agenda, it can be safely said that your own publication contributes little. Your sidebar, "Highlights of the new process," reads as if OMB had written it.

Where is the discussion of important issues such as the failure to allow federal employees to submit their best bids during most competitions, the likely inflation of in-house overhead costs, and the failure to mitigate the impact of contracting out on pay and benefits, as well as the disproportionate impact of privatization on federal employees who happen to be women and minorities?

What about the failure to test and evaluate the subjective best-value process on a limited pilot project basis, the significant narrowing of the definition of "inherently governmental," and the failure to provide agencies with adequate resources to satisfactorily conduct competitions and administer contracts?

In fact, thanks to an AFGE-endorsed amendment, Congress, with the administration's sullen consent, just rectified two significant problems in the May 29 A-76 rewrite for Defense Department civilian employees.

For your readers, it must be a complete mystery as to why the Congress is so determined to reform OMB's privatization efforts. They get one-sided assessments of the A-76 rewrite and plenty of hot air from OMB about "misinformation." The facts are out there. However, it appears as if your readers will have to look elsewhere to find them.

John Gage

National President

American Federation of Government Employees

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