Rule Changes Could Cut Fed I.T. Workforce

Supporters say revisions will increase efficiency; detractors say jobs will be lost
An improvement to the government's competitive sourcing process that could save taxpayers billions of dollars, or an attempt to displace thousands of federal employees, including IT workers? That's the debate surrounding OMB Circular A-76, a revision to existing government sourcing rules issued last month by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Supporters and detractors made their cases last week before the House Committee on Government Reform, which is reviewing the new rules. Those in favor of the regulations say revisions that require a decision on who should receive a contract be made within 12 months--versus the two-plus years it takes under the incumbent rules--will spur more businesses to seek federal government work. Increased competition will lead to greater efficiencies and lower costs. Opponents say otherwise. This is "designed to give OMB one more tool to contract out as many federal employee jobs as quickly as possible," Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in her testimony.

The administration has set a goal that would have half of the government workforce--some 850,000 positions--eligible for competitive sourcing, in which teams of workers would compete against private contractors. The exception may be so-called "inherently governmental" positions. The definition of an inherently governmental job is left to the discretion of agency heads, but jobs that deal with public safety and national security matters have generally fit that description.

Supporters argue that it makes sense to follow private industry's lead of outsourcing work that isn't sensitive or otherwise mission-critical. "What the private sector has done in the last 10 years is reinvent itself by looking at what's noncore to it and getting other companies to provide world-class performance in those functions to create the greatest value to its customers," says Michael Mutek, VP and general counsel at Raytheon Technical Services Inc.

David Walker, head of GAO

Implementing OMB Circular A-76 will be a significant challenge for many agencies, GAO's Walker says
Labor leaders couldn't point to specific IT jobs that might be threatened by the A-76 revisions. Outsourcing government IT jobs is becoming less of an issue because more than half the government's IT workforce will be eligible to retire in the next five years, says Howard Stern, VP at market intelligence firm Federal Sources Inc. In the future, the government will need more skilled managers who can supervise outside programmers, analysts, and technicians, he says.

Even if most government jobs eligible for outsourcing through A-76 do go to the private sector, workers may not find themselves jobless. "Who do you think will perform this work?" Mutek asks. "We'll hire those government employees."

Altering the rules to encourage more competition for federal work doesn't mean change will come overnight, said Comptroller General David Walker, the head of the General Accounting Office and chairman of a panel that recommended many of the revisions OMB adopted in A-76. "While the new circular provides an improved foundation for competitive sourcing decisions," Walker said, "implementing this initiative will undoubtedly be a significant challenge for many federal agencies."

Photo by Henrik G. de Gyor

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