Bill would halt A-76 studies

By Trish Choate
Thursday, June 5, 2008

WASHINGTON -- The 2009 defense spending bill proposes to stop the military from replacing federal workers with private contractors through “A-76” studies such as a review underway at Sheppard Air Force Base involving 426 military and civilian positions.

North Texas congressmen frowned on the proposal for a three-year moratorium on the studies, designed to create competition between public employees and private contractors.

The American Federation of Government Employees supports the A-76 amendment, including a union representative from Sheppard Air Force Base.

“A three-year moratorium makes more sense than ever,” Gary Johnson, president of the Local 0779, said. “What do we have to gain as a nation by forcing our defenders to restructure and reduce manpower when they need these now more than ever?”

Whoever heard of a nation fighting a war in multiple theaters while tearing down its defense structure at the same time, Johnson said.

Required to cut personnel, 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 studies mean civil services workers must bid for their jobs against private contractors.

In 2006, Sheppard officials announced the A-76 review underway now, Mike McKito, base spokesman, said in an e-mail. The study encompasses 233 civilian positions, 183 enlisted positions and 10 officers.

It includes civil engineering, technical training support services, fitness center and trainer development, McKito said.

Sheppard began a study in 1999 including the same areas, as well as communications and logistical readiness, he said. Officials cancelled it because of policy changes.

Under the amendment in House Resolution 5658, the 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 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 North Texas delegation voted in favor of the defense authorization bill but disagreed with the HASC stand on A-76 studies.

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, who represents Wichita Falls, said it’s generally a mistake for Congress to limit what the Pentagon can do to get the best for the military.

The competitions don’t work very well, and the Republican from Clarendon would listen sympathetically to suggestions for change, Thornberry, R-Clarendon, said.

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

U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, representing Young County and part of Archer County, 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, R-Lubbock, of the 19th Congressional District said.

The AFGE also disputed reports of cost savings from A-76 studies.

Estimated savings are more than $7 billion for the last five years from public-private competition, according to a recently released report from the Office of Management and Budget.

But Threlkeld noted a recent study on the Forest Service’s A-76 process from the Government Accountability Office.

The Forest Service reported saving $38 million through public-private competitions from 2004 to 2006, the GAO report released in January said. But the agency couldn’t show the GAO where that figure came from, so Congress might have an inaccurate picture of savings.

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

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