Lawmakers on March 15 will take up a controversial bill, the Freedom from Government Competition Act of 2018, and if they get enough support to pass the House and the Senate, most of the two million federal jobs are at risk of being outsourced.
Essentially, the bill would allow politically well-connected businesses to take over most of government responsibilities, opening the door to mission failure, the corrupting influence of politics, and conflicts of interest. Contractors are two to three times more expensive than federal employees doing the same work, so the taxpayers would be on the hook for higher costs.
Here’s how businesses plan to take over public assets and functions:
1. Repeal a governmentwide ban on outsourcing studies.
Bipartisan members of Congress have put in place the ban on A-76 outsourcing studies since 2010 because of systemic problems with the contracting out process. If this bill becomes law, hundreds of thousands of federal jobs classified as “commercial” such as aircraft maintenance, janitorial services, doctors and nurses could be open to contractor competition. Considering how powerful special interests have managed to get their allies in Congress to expand privatization at the Department of Veterans Affairs, nothing is safe.
2. Reclassify hundreds of thousands of federal jobs so that they could be outsourced.
Besides “commercial,” there are other job classifications in the government. “Inherently governmental” jobs are jobs that cannot be outsourced because they exercise “substantial discretionary” decision making that would bind an agency to take or not take an action.
There are also jobs known as “closely associated with inherently governmental,” which are important to the agency’s missions because they are so closely associated with inherently government jobs. Examples include developing agency budgets; developing agency regulations; evaluating contractors, assisting interrogations; guarding convoys; training support; human resources; cybersecurity and information technology involving access to classified information; and recommending the fair market value for takings in eminent domain actions.
If the Freedom From Government Competition bill becomes law, these “closely associated with inherently government” jobs would be reclassified as “commercial” – jobs that could be taken over by for-profit companies.
The bill would repeal statutory mandates for agencies to reduce reliance on contractors for this job category.
3. Get rid of contractor inventories and insourcing programs
Insourcing programs and contractor inventories, which track manpower and costs of contracts, have helped agencies save billions of dollars. We know civilian federal employees are the cheapest among the three workforces – military personnel, contractors, and civilians – because Defense agencies have compiled contractor inventories.
But the bill would repeal the law requiring civilian agencies to compile contractor inventories and have in-sourcing programs, suppressing the collection of this cost information and the ability to in-source work to save money.
Taxpayers would have to shoulder the higher costs of contracts if Congress suppresses the collection of this information and gets rid of agencies’ ability to bring the work in-house.
4. Tilt the playing field in favor of contractors by getting rid of the least cost standard.
Before the A-76 ban was put in place, outsourcing studies were objectively decided by costs. As federal employees have proven to be cheaper, the bill would replace the “least cost” standard with the highly subjective “best value” concept so that agencies could award contracts to companies even though they are more expensive than federal employees and the cost could potentially go up after the contract has been awarded. Again, the taxpayers would have to foot the bill.
5. Tilt the playing field in favor of contractors and reward bad employers who don’t provide health care or retirement benefits to their employees.
In public-private competitions, differences in the costs of federal and private health insurance benefits could disadvantage the federal workforce. So Congress years ago put in place protections prohibiting companies from gaining a competitive cost advantage because they don’t provide employees with these important benefits. The bill would repeal those protections.
6. Prevent agencies from taking into consideration the full cost of contracting out.
The bill would repeal the requirement that agencies take into consideration all the costs of outsourcing federal jobs, which the Government Accountability Office and Defense Inspector General have estimated to be somewhere between $84 million and $146 million per year in some competitions.
7. Rush the outsourcing process.
The bill would shorten a public-private competition from typically two years to either one year or 90 days. This would undermine the legitimate analytical underpinnings for any decision.
In an era where the integrity of government is constantly threatened by politics, the last thing Congress should do is expand the role of unaccountable and politically-connected contractors.
Unlike for-profit companies, federal employees work for the American people. They take an oath of loyalty to the Constitution and laws of the United State. A company’s loyalty is, by law, solely to the company’s shareholders. The American taxpayer will pay the price, literally and figuratively, if public work is taken over by these businesses.
Of course for-profit firms couldn’t care less about the taxpayers. And with generous campaign contributions for election coffers, there is no shortage of politicians who are willing to do the bidding for them.
What You Need to Do Right Now
Tell your Representative to tell Chairman and Ranking Member of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to bury this bill.
For more details of the bill, click here.