Bill targets military hiring of contractors

But the American Federation of Government Employees supports the A-76 amendment.

"We're about cut short as we ever have been," Paul Delacot, president of the Local 2356 of the AFGE at Dyess, said. "If we can't even afford to keep federal workers, and they already know that contracting out jobs costs more than doing it in house, where's Congress going to get this money to hire all these contractors?"

Required to cut manpower, the military has been pressured to rely solely on the A-76 studies to streamline operations, said John Threlkeld, legislative representative for the AFGE in Washington.

"In the private sector, you don't see an emphasis on outsourcing to the exclusion of all options," Threlkeld said.

The A-76 review under way at Dyess is an Air Combat Command study of the base's system to process and deliver mail to or from the post office, Capt. Will Powell, deputy chief of public affairs for the 7th Bomb Wing, said.

The system also handles distribution of official documents on base, Powell said. The last A-76 study on Dyess examined human resources' work in 2003.

Before then, 15 military workers and one civilian performed tasks such as identification card processing, he said. Nine contractors do the jobs now.

Under the amendment, A-76 studies touted by the Office of Management and Budget as money-savers would be on hold through Sept. 30, 2011.

But they're high on President Bush's agenda as ways to cut costs and make the government more efficient. He is poised to veto the final version of the bill if it includes a moratorium on the Department of Defense conducting the studies.

The House approved the bill -- House Resolution 5658 -- in late May. The Senate version of the legislation doesn't include the A-76 amendment, but it could be added later. It's unclear when the bill will come to the Senate floor.

The three-year halt would affect only work subject to A-76 studies, including activities ranging contract oversight to electrical work, Threlkeld of the AFGE said.

Lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee included the amendment because "turbulence" could interfere with making sound decisions about converting civil service jobs in the DOD to private contracting gigs, the bill said.

That turbulence includes wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the drive to add soldiers and Marines, and the last round of base realignment and closures. Concentrating on A-76 studies could divert the DOD from its other obligations.

The Big Country delegation voted in favor of the defense authorization bill, but they disagreed with the HASC stand on A-76 studies.

U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, said he would have voted against the A-76 amendment separately if he could have.

"At a time when we're stretched on resources, I don't think it's a good time to take away any options for our Department of Defense or our military where they may need to use some of these private contractors," Neugebauer of the 19th Congressional District said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, said he hopes the provision is not in the final version of the bill.

He said he understands the studies can be unsettling for civil service workers who must compete for their jobs.

But competition is good, said Conaway, of the 11th Congressional District.

"It allows civil service folks to prove that they're doing the best job and the taxpayers (are) getting the best work for the money that they're paying," Conaway said.

If not, taxpayers are better off with a private contractor doing the job, he said.

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, said it's generally a mistake for Congress to limit what the Pentagon can do to get the best for the military.

But Thornberry doesn't think the competitions work very well and would listen sympathetically to suggestions for change, he said.

"But to forbid it altogether, I think that's going too far," Thornberry of the 13th Congressional District said.

Washington regional correspondent Trish Choate can be reached at (202) 408-2709 or [email protected]

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