Senate passes provision for employees' A-76 protest rights

The Senate last night moved a step closer to giving federal employees the right to protest public-private competitions to the General Accounting Office.

The chamber unanimously passed an amendment sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) as part of the fiscal 2005 Defense Authorization Act. Members still are debating the entire bill.

The provision is the same one Collins introduced as a full bill last month. It would convey the protest privilege to the agency official in charge of the competition under Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76, or to a person designated by a majority of the employees involved.

There is no such provision in the House DOD bill, so the differences will have to be worked out in conference once the Senate passes the full authorization bill. The House, which passed its version last month, did include a "sense of Congress" statement supporting legal standing for federal employees before GAO and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

The provision received wide support from federal-employee unions. Private-sector trade associations were more cautious.

Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, an Arlington, Va., trade group, recently said his organization supports the right of the agency official in charge of the competition to protest to GAO, but not an employee designated by a majority of affected workers.

"No employee at a private-sector company can protest," Soloway said. "It would have a chilling effect if the administration moves beyond" the employee in charge of the bid.

The Senate also passed an amendment placing some A-76 restrictions on DOD.

One provision would require Defense officials to conduct a full competition for A-76 studies involving 10 or more employees. It also would continue the provision for successful contractor bids to come in at 10 percent less or $10 million less than the employee proposal.

Finally, the bill would suspend a pilot to use the best-value contracting method to compete IT services.

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