WASHINGTON – Maryland lawmakers pledged to continue fighting to protect federal workers’ jobs from what they say is unfair competitive bidding, after such protections were quietly cut at the last minute from the weekend’s omnibus budget bill.
The House and Senate had earlier agreed to an amendment, pushed by Maryland Democrats, to deny funds to implement outsourcing regulations known as Circular A-76. But that language — and a compromise version offered by its supporters — was removed from the more-than-3,000-page budget bill after a White House veto threat.
Local lawmakers said they only learned of the change after the massive bill reached their offices late Friday night.
By using the veto threat to kill the amendment, “the Bush Administration has once again shown its disdain and disrespect” for federal workers, said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, in a joint statement Saturday with Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. The two lawmakers sponsored the outsourcing amendment earlier this year.
“There was bipartisan support for fixing the privatization process to make it fairer,” Mikulski said in the statement. “But the White House ignored the will of Congress and, behind closed doors, stripped out the A-76 provisions.”
The battle over outsourcing boiled down to which set of rules should be used to implement President Bush’s plan to privatize certain “nonessential” government jobs, such as janitorial work or some administrative services.
Under Circular A-76, issued by the Office of Management and Budget in May 2003, government workers in these positions must bid for their own jobs against private competitors.
OMB spokesman Chad Kolton said the program has been a success. Of the estimated 18,000 jobs put up for competition in one year, he said, federal workers won the bids 89 percent of the time, resulting in expected savings of about $1.1 billion.
Opponents simply believe that competitive sourcing “is bad for federal employees,” Kolton said.
But critics argue that the current regulations do not guarantee the substantial savings projected by OMB, and the rules create unfair advantages for private contractors. For example, they say, private contractors can trim bids by cutting employee benefits.
They also point out that the defense spending bill passed earlier this year included different — and they believe fairer — regulations for competitive bidding at the Department of Defense. The defense rules ensure that government workers cannot be underbid by a company that slashes employee benefits and require that private competitors provide savings of at least 10 percent or $10 million for taxpayers.
“We want to take the language in the DoD bill and make it government-wide,” said John Threlkeld, legislative representative for the American Federation of Government Employees.
Opponents of A-76 offered the Defense Department language as a compromise last week, but the White House repeated an earlier threat to veto any spending bill that included any limits on outsourcing. House and Senate conferees who were trying to wrestle nine appropriation bills into a single omnibus budget ultimately gave in to the administration, Threlkeld said.
Marilyn Campbell, Van Hollen’s press secretary, said the Republicans “caved,” ensuring the amendment would be cut from the final bill.
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, called the outcome “disappointing” in a statement released Monday. She added, however, that “the fact that the contracting out language became a pivotal issue in the passage of this bill speaks volumes about how far we have come in winning congressional support on behalf of a level playing field for federal employees.”
She also noted that the omnibus bill included a 3.5 percent raise for federal workers, ensuring them pay parity with the military. President Bush had hoped to limit federal pay raises to 1.5 percent, but did not threaten a veto on that issue.
While vowing to fight on, Van Hollen has not said whether he will reintroduce his amendment next year, when a new Congress convenes with solid Republican majorities in both the House and Senate. Campbell said Tuesday she assumed he would do so “but I haven’t asked him.”
-30- CNS 11-23-04