- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Bush administration’s efforts to make government more cost-effective suffered a blow Monday when the House voted to gut the president’s plan to make federal contracting more competitive. Sponsored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, the measure passed by a margin of 23 votes, propelled to victory by liberal Republicans like Rep. Sherwood Boehlert of New York, as well as non-liberal Republicans like Reps. Henry Hyde of Illinois, Jo Ann Davis of Virginia and Ray LaHood of Illinois. Now, if a plan by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, to enact a rollback gains similar traction in the Senate, Congress will stand unified against some very sensible cost-cutting initiatives the Bush administration has undertaken, even as it engineers the largest expansion of federal outlays in a generation.

Over the last two decades, in both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations, the Office of Management and Budget has been ratcheting up competition for important public-sector projects across the spectrum of the government’s activities, ranging from procuring widgets for helicopters and tanks to building and renovating new facilities around the world. Over time, the fruit of these efforts, commonly called “A-76 competitions,” has been significant cost savings for the American taxpayer. When, in 2002, the Bush Administration rolled out the most ambitious changes yet to the A-76 rules, the prospects for a leaner, more efficient federal government never seemed brighter.

Now they appear to have dimmed significantly. Mr. Van Hollen’s masterstroke was to tie his proposal to legislation that tables a generous wage increase for federal employees. At 3.5 percent, Mr. Van Hollen’s cost-of-living increase proposal is more than double the president’s, and effectively challenges lawmakers — particularly those who represent the District, Maryland, Virginia and other federal worker-heavy regions — to lay their re-election prospects on the line if they choose to oppose the bill. It’s no surprise that Maryland politicians are behind both the House and Senate efforts; this is clearly an effort to dole the pork close to home, where the plurality of federal workers reside.

We call on the 24 Republican lawmakers who acted to thwart competition-friendly policies to help reinstate as much of President Bush’s agenda as possible into the House legislation. These lawmakers do not oppose efficient government in principle. But in practice, they prioritize it so far below their re-election prospects that they end up doing serious damage to taxpayer interests. Now, sirs and madames, that your electoral bases are covered, please start making amends.

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