When it comes to "competitive sourcing," the Bush administration pushes and the Congress sometimes pulls back.
On Wednesday evening, the Senate voted to stop an effort at the Department of Homeland Security to contract out the work performed by about 1,200 immigration information officers, contact representatives and investigative assistants.
The amendment to the department's fiscal 2005 spending bill, offered by Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), was approved 49 to 47. It followed a House vote of 242 to 163 earlier this year also aimed at blocking the job competition.
Yesterday, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), on a 9 to 6 vote in the Senate Appropriations transportation-treasury subcommittee, won approval for an amendment that would force the Office of Management and Budget to use a previous version of the A-76 Circular, which sets out the procedures for determining whether federal jobs can be more efficiently performed by the private sector.
Mikulski contended that the new A-76 rules, published in May 2003, "put federal employees at an unfair disadvantage." She wants the OMB to go back to the drawing board and come up with different A-76 procedures.
In the debate on his amendment, Leahy argued that Homeland Security was embarked on "an ill-advised attempt" to "privatize jobs that are vital to keeping Americans safe."
Immigration inspectors, Leahy said, discover and prevent "dangerous people from abusing the immigration system" -- work that he called "clearly 'inherently governmental,' " the key test in determining what kind of federal work can be put up for bid.
The Bush administration's job-competition initiative has roiled the federal workforce and energized unions to fight back on Capitol Hill. Controversy and confusion surrounding the initiative also have put the squeeze on numerous members of Congress who don't want to lose federal jobs in their home states, especially in a big election year.
The OMB warns that President Bush will veto bills carrying riders that would undermine the initiative. But Bush recently signed the fiscal 2005 defense appropriations bill, which outraged government contractors. It included a provision, sponsored by Rep. Martin O. Sabo (D-Minn.), prohibiting private-sector bidders from getting an edge by not providing health insurance to their employees or by contributing less in benefits than the amount paid by the Defense Department for federal employee health insurance.
About a half-dozen amendments are in play in Congress that would rein in competitive sourcing efforts by the Bush administration. One House Appropriations provision, for example, would guarantee that federal employees could form teams to oppose contractors in competitive sourcing reviews affecting more than 10 jobs. It also would require contractors to show cost savings -- at least 10 percent or $10 million -- in order to win the competitions.
The provision was sponsored by Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.). Hoyer said the amendment "will guarantee a level playing field" for federal employees.
How many of the amendments will make it to the White House is unclear, partly because some Hill aides think Congress is headed for a post-election, lame-duck session that could roll pending appropriations into one big spending bill. If that happens, the White House might find a way to strip out the provisions.
John Gage, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, praised the Senate for approving the Leahy amendment and saluted two Republican senators, Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Christopher S. Bond (Mo.) for voting with Mikulski.
The two votes, Gage said, indicate that the Bush administration is losing this fight."
Louise Crane, Kennon Nakamura and James York of the American Foreign Service Association will be the guests on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on federalnewsradio.com.
Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle, chief information officer for the Army, will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).
The "No Fear" law will be the topic for discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).
Nicholas P. Godici, the patents commissioner, will be the guest on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" at noon Monday on WAMU radio (88.5 FM).