July 25, 2005
Emily Ryan
[email protected]

Senators Call OMB Out on its Wavering on Privatization

(Washington)—AFGE applauded a recent senatorial letter that insisted that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) get off the fence and take a position on the Voice of America’s (VOA) plan to contract out English language news-writing work to Chinese contractors in order to avoid paying employee benefits.

The letter—organized by Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), and signed by 13 other members of the authorizing and appropriating committees for VOA—notes that the OMB Circular A-76 privatization process requires that VOA either conduct a public-private competition before turning over the work to contractors or that it secure a waiver from OMB relieving it of compliance with the competition requirement.

“OMB must either enforce the A-76 competition requirement or explicitly authorize VOA with a waiver to contract out English language news-writing work currently performed by American federal employees to Chinese contractors,” insisted AFGE National President John Gage

Sarbanes and his colleagues sent a letter to VOA on June 9 that urged VOA to scrap its much-ridiculed Chinese outsourcing scheme. However, VOA management airily dismissed the letter and insisted that it would contract out the work. “So much work still is given to contractors without public-competition; and even though such direct conversions are contrary to its own circular, OMB sanctions these anti-taxpayer, anti-federal employee giveaways to corporate special interests,” Gage said.

The establishment of a privatized call center by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) perhaps is the most notorious example of OMB allowing a direct conversion of federal employee work to contractor performance without competition and without a waiver. When pressed by the Congress, OMB’s Deputy Director for Management Clay Johnson recently said that OMB signed off on the call center privatization because it was not a direct conversion since “EEOC awarded a contract for call center operations that involves new services, including the ability to handle calls in different languages as well as after hours.”

“Even a cursory review of the A-76 circular shows OMB’s argument to be nonsense,” asserted Gage. “According to the A-76 circular, page D-7, ‘An activity that is performed by the agency and is reengineered, reorganized, modernized, upgraded, expanded, or changed to become more efficient, but still essentially provides the same service, is not considered a new requirement.’ Simply put, answering calls for the EEOC is still answering calls for the EEOC.

“Will OMB fail to enforce the circular’s competition requirement on VOA, and instead come up with another bizarre rationale, this time to justify contracting out work performed by American federal employees to Chinese contractors without any public-private competition?” asked Gage.

Read the Letter

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