Bureaucratus: Bills 'Brake' Outsourcing

Those of you who are not enamored with the outsourcing of government jobs will be pleased to learn that legislation passed recently by the Senate will curb federal outsourcing.

The legislation calls for the creation of a panel to determine whether federal privatization rules should be changed. In the House, two bills pending would halt virtually all outsourcing activity.

The Senate's 2001 Defense authorization bill contains an amendment added by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) that requires the head of the U.S. General Accounting Office - the comptroller general - to appoint and lead a panel to submit a final report to Congress. The panel would be made up of government, industry and labor representatives and would review government privatization rules and make recommendations for changes.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76 contains the current rules for federal outsourcing. A-76 calls for federal employees and a contractor to compete for a project. If it would be less expensive to have work done by a contractor, the function is outsourced.

The problem with this procedure is that it doesn't require agencies to bring a function back in-house if the cost of contracting it out rises. So contractors enter a low bid to get the function outsourced and then raise their prices.

It's incredible how dumb government agencies can be.

Although the proposal made by Warner is not in the House version of the Defense authorization bill, there is a good chance that it will be included in the final Defense authorization bill before Congress recesses this year. In the House, Rep. James Saxton (R-N.J.) introduced a bill (H.R. 4722) that bans additional DOD outsourcing. The ban is for a five-year period that ends when Congress finishes base closures that were called for in 1995.

According to Saxton's bill, "There is conflicting evidence that the current privatization and outsourcing efforts of the Defense Department are reducing the cost of support functions within the department." That's the understatement of the year. Saxton's proposal also requires DOD to prepare a report to Congress that details the saving that the department has achieved by outsourcing jobs. The report would cover jobs contracted out since 1996. I can't wait to see that report!

Another bill (H.R. 3766) requires agencies to stop outsourcing federal jobs unless they can prove that doing so will save money. This bill is titled the Truthfulness, Responsibility and Accountability in Contracting Act and has more than 180 co-sponsors in the House. Sen. Charles Robb (D-Va.) plans to introduce a similar bill in the Senate.

Bobby Harnage, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, praised those actions, which is no surprise. DOD wants to open more than 230,000 jobs to competition by 2005, with hopes of saving more than $10 billion. Maybe this flurry of legislation will stop DOD dead in its tracks.

Let's hope so.

--Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at miltzall@starpower.net.

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