OMB to ask for long range A-76 plans

The Office of Management and Budget is asking agencies to prepare long-range plans for conducting public-private competitions of federal jobs, Office of Federal Procurement Policy official Mathew Blum told government and industry representatives today.

Most of the 27 executive agencies are taking competitive sourcing seriously, Blum said. "You can be assured we will be moving forward on this," he said.

OMB also will expand its reporting to the public about the competitions, including data such as the cost of conducting competitions and savings realized, Blum said.

Blum spoke at a meeting of the Bethesda, Md., chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

OMB Circular A-76 lays out the rules for public-private competitions.

Government and industry have criticized the circular both before and after it was revised in May. Last year, OMB officials responded to some of the criticism by backing away from requiring agencies to compete a specific numbers of jobs with the private sector.

Most recently, the circular has been the subject of a legislative onslaught, with provisions added to spending bills that were designed to curtail competitions.

Blum said that within a few days OMB will deliver guidance to agency leaders on the President's Management Council that outlines what the competitive sourcing plans should include.

"We want to have a sense of what agencies have planned over the next year, and the constraints they are facing, such as [lack of] funding," he said. "We want to look at the size and diversity of the agency's mission and activities it is competing. We want to make sure that agency plans are tailored to their mission."

Mike Sade, senior procurement executive at the Commerce Department, said he expects the plans will cover about five years.

"We want to create an organizational structure that will enforce accountability and sharing [of best practices]," Sade said.

The Commerce Department hired Jefferson Consulting Group LLC of Washington to study best practices within other agencies and help Commerce develop its long-term strategy, including competition process, organizational structure and knowledge transfer, Sade said.

Sade said he thinks public-private competitions will soon move forward, despite the difficulties in conducting them. Those difficulties include estimating the true costs of agency operations before competing jobs with the private sector, and overcoming employees' fears that their jobs will automatically be outsourced if they are identified as commercial in nature, and therefore eligible for competition.

"If we code something as commercial, employees automatically believe they are going to be outsourced. We might not even look at that [job]," Sade said.

One challenge that industry executives identified is ensuring that winning agency bidders perform their work within the budget laid out in their proposal.

The Internal Revenue Service is dealing with that by "fencing off" funding for work won in A-76 competitions, ensuring that agency employees manage their jobs more like a business, said Raymona Stickell, director of IRS' competitive sourcing office.

"We are using project tracking codes to account for all the funding. The funding levels are not merged with the rest of the budget," Stickell said. "We are trying to get the same mindset in the IRS as industry has with meeting profit margins."

Although "nobody in government or industry trusts the process, I think we are on the threshold of progress," said Sade, who is creating a competitive sourcing office at the Commerce Department. "We are finally building a knowledge base in government. There are offices and people in charge. I think it is all going to come together," he said.

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