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Is A-76 Dead, or Just Sleeping?

A-76 Sign, White on Red
(CC) Wikimedia Commons

I am seeing a lot of “…Kill [OMB Circular] A-76…” newsletter articles in my email lately, whether simply a product of the political climate, or a genuine movement. In any case, I am driven to wonder whether the rule itself is finished, or if it simply needs better and more regular implementation. My sense is that, of the two sides, only the “kill it” side has a clear focus, but that doesn’t mean it is the only relevant view even if there isn’t an obvious and reasonable focus on keeping it.

On the “kill it” side, I can see many of the arguments aggregated from the results of the years of A-76 assessments. Overall, so the newsletters say, these competitions have been a waste of time that have resulted in a net negative for the taxpayer. The government is not more efficient or effective because of the competitions, and is generally the poorer for having run the competition in the first place. I’ll take this at face value because I haven’t the time or energy at this point to dig through the numbers and caveats in the competition reports. Besides, I don’t think the specifics are that important given the figures aren’t agency-busting-huge.

On the keep-but-revise side, we have to look beyond absolute expenditures. I think a major benefit of a future revised A-76 initiative is to look at the way the government does business, and to divine what is truly the role of the government. Additionally, I see it as an opportunity to find critical, inbred conflicts of interest that seem to run rampant in the very design of many agencies. Put another way, how about we take a look at organizations that provide services to the public AND provide legal and quality oversight of those same services AND regulate or rule on those same services! Would we consider it a bit shady if a bank audited its own books and valued its own holdings?

Let’s ask questions that should be obvious, from a practical and applied perspective instead of the policy-level view taken in the past. For example, is repairing electrical generators or air conditioners something that only the government can do? Even if, in some circumstances, we can justify the job of a general electrician to be something that only the government can do given a very specific context, shouldn’t we at least make sure we are hiring people with the qualifications of a general electrician, and make sure that any governmental oversight and/or quality checking is performed by someone other than the maintenance technician?

Before the 1960s, “Close enough for government work,” had an elevated meaning instead of being the pejorative it is today. In the past, the phrase meant that the work was of the highest quality standards, far above what commercial applications required, and that being “close enough” was actually very, very good. I think that reexamining the purpose of initiatives like A-76 through the lens of making the government the best at doing what only the government should do instead of just cost savings is a good idea. Separating service provision from oversight from policy, and acknowledging that they are distinct functions, is an essential first step to getting the best in all three areas, and I think a tool like revised and intentional A-76 may be the vehicle to get it started.


About the Author:

Dr. Philip D. Mann is an experienced trainer, speaker, and problem solver who gets things done. His primary expertise is employee engagement and the people side of how organizations grow and (resist) change. He also knows a thing or two about the government works, and those principles apply to all large, bureaucratic structures. If you need help getting things done, reach out to Dr. Mann here on LinkedIn or at

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