Public/private competitions come under fire again

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) has re-introduced legislation from 2009 to block agencies’ use of the Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76, the regulation that pits government employees against private companies for federal work.

Her attempt, Mikulski said, is to make the acquisition process fair for federal employees “and to protect them against unfair contracting out policies.”

While Congress may never have passed her bill, the competitive sourcing policy was banned for a several years in a row under the previous Congress.

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) issued a statement, giving Mikulski support. He said agency officials have been too quick to outsource many of “government’s most basic functions.”

Related coverage:

Senate bill would suspend competitive sourcing

Competitive sourcing gets a spot in fiscal 2011 appropriations 

President Barack Obama’s chief procurement policymaker is setting rules for pulling back certain key jobs, even down to work considered to be a “critical function.” One of the tenets of Dan Gordon, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, is rebalancing the government’s relationship with contractors. A new regulation is still under review by federal officials regarding work reserved for government employees, although, experts say, the regulation should be released soon.

Mikulski's bill, introduced May 12, would have agencies record their contracts to find what work is inherently governmental function and should only be carried out by federal employees. Agencies would have inventories of specific contracts identical to the inventory already developed by the Defense Department.

Mikulski wants to revise the OMB A-76 regulation on how federal executives should compare prices between the public and private sectors. She is proposing a temporary suspension of the regulation until the Office of Management and Budget and inspectors general from the five largest agencies work out necessary changes.

It also would encourage officials to offer federal employees contracts that the private contractors are working on.

Her legislation has been referred to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for further consideration. In the last Congress, this same bill never made it through the committee. A matching bill in the House failed to make it through an oversight committee.

Meanwhile, on April 15, Obama signed legislation that gave defense officials the opportunity to pit the public and private sectors against each other for noninherently governmental work.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

Reader Comments

Wed, May 18, 2011 Russ

Jim, Fuzzy math. If a contractor employee really cost four times as much as a civil service employee, then the private sector would never win an A-76. That is simple arithmetic. But since you are throwing rocks at politicians, how about the ones like a certain senator from Maryland who has many more government employees in her state than contractors? Is it possible that she is handing out gifts to her constituents, like halting A-76 competitions, so that they will remember her come election time? Now that is BS. For a discussion of just how difficult it is to estimate the cost of a government employee and compare it to a contractor, see today's FCW:

Wed, May 18, 2011 don

@Russ, respectively, it sounds like perhaps you were on the losing end of a few A-76 competitions and harbor a slightly "jaded" view of the facts. I hope you were indeed treated fairly, though, as is commonplace in private industry, things are not always fair. True enough - however, just because you do not like the math, does not mean the math is not factual. Similarly, just because you are unhappy with a decision does not automatically mean Fed managers and staff "cheated" to win. Contractors are at an automatic disadvantage - because they must turn a profit from each task. Here is some more math for you: If a vendor cannot "extract" a hefty profit from taxpayers on a task, they usually will not even bid on that task. Making business sense yet?

Tue, May 17, 2011 Paul

In relation to Russ's comments, I will say that may be the case in certain areas but not on the professional side. In my work with the DoD, it not only takes an advanced formal education but also a couple of years on the job training just to get up to speed. There is no equivalent job in the civilian sector to gain most of that experience. Some of what we do can be contracted but most of it would be a waste since once a contractor moves on, we have to spend another couple of years training a new one. It just isn't worth the effort. I have no problem with contracting certain things, especially in product development or other areas with a specific end point, but not for work that continuous. We have enough trouble with institutional knowledge already. End result: some things are cheaper (and better) to contract and others should remain in house. No arithmetic. Just common sense.

Tue, May 17, 2011 jim Maryland, USA

Ok - basic aritmetic: contractor gets $200 or more/hour, most feds < $50/hour. Yeah, yea, the whole benefit thing the feds allegedly have. Ummmm, they pay a good portion of that themselves. It is not handed to them for free. Policiticans just want to hand out gifts to their corporate sponsers so they can line their pockets and remember them come election time. It's all BS.

Tue, May 17, 2011 sclark Colonie, NY

IN NYS has never been much of a fair fight. The NYS Forum is the "place for collaboration in a fully neutral environment, where state and local IT organizations and corporations come together to share knowledge and ideas that foster mutual understandings, facilitate public sector progress, and provide insight into what government can be for all of those it serves". The Forum sets IT policy and directions for the state. Each Work Group Board is chaired by the head of an IT consulting firm that has contracts valued in the millions to provide IT services (training and products) to the state.

Companies like Tailwind, Keane, CGI and CMA are firmly entrenched in NYS Agencies and statewide IT policy making decisions via the Forum and the Office for Technology (OFT). Millions in contracts are affected and they basically regulate themselves. But the last two Governors continue to target and reduce the permanent worker force when looking for ways to save. The only ones that can't see that permanent staff is cheaper that temp workers more interested in billing every hour of their contract IS Arithmetically challenged. The response to .. "How long will this take to complete? more often than not .. How long is my contract for?!"....

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