New A-76 provisions will have little effect, agencies say

While federal employee unions and industry associations argue about new job-competition language in the Transportation-Treasury Appropriations bill, agency officials are taking little notice.

Senate and House conference committee members last night passed the appropriations bill with language changing the revised Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76. The change is that in all public- and private-sector competitions for more than 10 positions, a private-sector offer would have to be 10 percent or $10 million less than the government's offer to be considered. OMB had revised the circular to delete the cost differential for competitions of fewer than 65 positions.

The appropriations bill also requires agencies to report to Congress annually the details of their competitions, costs and decisions. It codifies the revised circular to give the agency official in charge of a government bid or an individual appointed by the employees to appeal an A-76 award to the General Accounting Office.

"Most of this is right out of the new circular," said an agency official who requested anonymity. "We will do what Congress tells us to, but it will not have a major impact on what we are doing now."

The official added that his agency is already doing or is considering much of what the new provisions require. He said the 10 percent price preference for government employees has little overall effect on A-76 competitions.

The Defense Department last year studied several hundred competitions for fewer than 65 employees and found that the 10 percent price preference would have made a difference in fewer than 10 percent of the cases, a DOD official said.

Employee unions, however, see this as a victory. John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, today said that the provisions are more equitable to federal workers.

"The integrity of the competition has been strengthened when agency decision-makers can be held accountable," Gage said. "AFGE now has standing authority to take its case to GAO if it feels that decisions were not made in the best interest of the taxpayers."

But Cathy Garman, vice president of public policy for the Contract Services Association of America of Arlington, Va., said the changes would cause a backlog of stalled competitions and legal challenges that could shut down the A-76 process.

Garman also said that the 10 percent provision will hurt small businesses' ability to bid on small competitions, and that giving the unions appeal rights is unfair because private-sector employees cannot protest to GAO.

The House and Senate must pass the appropriations bill before the president can sign it into law.

Jason Miller writes for Government Computer News magazine.

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