WASHINGTON – Federal workers unions are criticizing a Bush administration plan to accelerate privatization of government jobs, saying not enough is being done to monitor the contractors who are displacing civil servants.
President Bush has said he wants to make as many as 425,000 federal jobs open to competition from private contractors by the end of his first term, a move he says will save money and make the government more efficient.
Union leaders expect the plan to get a boost Wednesday when a General Accounting Office panel is scheduled to release a report on possible changes in the way the government awards contracts.
Union representatives on the panel said they will present their own report to counter the recommendations of the task force, which is dominated by administration officials and members of the contracting industry. They would not indicate what they expect the minority report to say.
But the administration is pressing ahead with its plan to let private contractors bid on more government jobs under the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act of 1998. The act requires federal agencies to determine which of their jobs are “not inherently governmental.” Those jobs can then be bid on by the private sector.
This year, Bush is requiring that agencies open to competition at least 5 percent, or 42,500, of the 850,000 jobs that have been determined to be not inherently governmental.
For fiscal 2003, Bush wants an additional 10 percent of the jobs to be subject to public-private competition. The ultimate goal is to open 425,000 federal jobs to contractors by the end of Bush’s first term.
That figure brought criticism from Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, who said during a March hearing by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that the targets seemed “arbitrary and potentially damaging.”
But Angela Styles, the administrator for federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget, defended the administration’s policy.
“Competitive sourcing is not about outsourcing or downsizing the federal government. The initiative is about competition and results,” she said. It ultimately results in better performance and results by the government, she said.
But officials with government workers unions say it is too soon to expand FAIR. Federal agencies are not adequately monitoring the estimated $125 billion they already spend on service contracts each year, the union said.
“We know virtually nothing about the quality and `real’ costs of the government functions being performed by private contractors,” said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, in March testimony to the Senate committee.
“Congress and the administration have never put in place reliable government-wide systems or provided adequate staffing to track the work of contractors,” Kelley said.
Paul Light of the Brookings Institution estimates there are 5.6 million who work for the government through private contracts. The federal government employs around 1.6 million workers, over 100,000 of whom live in Maryland.
Opponents say the better performance that Styles attributes to FAIR has not been proven, and they argue that outsourcing lowers the quality of federal services and jeopardizes national security.
Unions are pushing a bill that has been stalled in committee that would suspend the award of new service contracts until a review of the contract making procedure is completed and agencies can more closely monitor the cost and size of their contractor workforces.
The Truthfulness, Responsibility and Accountability in Contracting Act was introduced by Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, and has 190 House co-sponsors, including Maryland Democratic Reps. Benjamin Cardin and Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, Steny Hoyer of Mechanicsville, and Republican Rep. Connie Morella of Bethesda. Maryland Democratic Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes are cosponsors of a Senate version.
But the bill has been stuck in committee for over a year, a move that Wynn’s legislative aide blamed on Republican stonewalling. Wynn has requested a second hearing on the bill, but so far none has been scheduled, said Michael Rious, the aide.
“The subcommittee chairman granted an airing, not a hearing. There hasn’t been a real hearing yet,” Rious said.