Several interesting takeaways from the article below:
1. The headline couldn't be more biased. In fact, in the article, the Forest Service is the defender of the competition, and is specifically NOT outraged. I have noticed the AP doing this kind of thing more lately. . .
2. "Loss of jobs"? Interesting he doesn't mention the private workers who just got jobs thanks to winning the contract. And how many of the former forest service workers were hired by the contractor? Usually most are.
3. If want the real deal on the answers to the questions this raises, check out FAQs About Federal Outsourcing, Competitive Sourcing, and Competition.
Forest Service Outraged by Loss of Jobs
By ROBERT GEHRKE
.c The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - Dozens of Forest Service employees in Utah and Montana were told last March they would be among the first victims of the Bush administration decision to bid out work by government employees to private contractors, who could do it cheaper.
A required analysis three months later showed it's going to cost the government $425,000 a year more for the same work that was being done by the 41 members of the Forest Service's Content Analysis Team in Salt Lake City and in Missoula, Mont.
``I think we can make a pretty strong case for keeping us on board, but nobody gave us an opportunity to do that,'' said Karl Vester, whose last day on the job was Friday. ``The Forest Service should be ashamed for what they've done to us.''
In all, 41 members of the team are losing their jobs to private contractors in the competitive sourcing program.
The Forest Service spent $24 million studying the idea, which was meant to reduce the federal payroll by switching the work to private contractors, assuming they can do it at lower cost.
In 93 percent of the cases, the Agriculture Department agency found it was cheaper for government employees to do the work. Fewer than 250 jobs are being sent to the private sector.
Worried that the $24 million was being taken out of other Forest Service programs, some lawmakers threatened to cut off all money for the studies. When the White House countered with a veto threat, Congress put strict caps on the privatization effort. Next year, the Forest Service can spend only $5 million for privatizing studies. The Interior Department is limited to $2.5 million, and the Energy Department to $500,000.
``We had to slap them around for that a bit,'' said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. ``They were out wasting the taxpayers' money doing these studies they shouldn't have been doing.''
Thomas Mills, deputy chief for business operations at the Forest Service, defends the studies and the decision to privatize Vester's team.
He said competitive sourcing will save the Forest Service $6.1 million a year, meaning the initiative will pay for itself in four years. And it has dispelled the myth of government inefficiency while forcing managers to run a tighter ship.
So far, the Forest Service has decided to privatize a computer support call center, a handful of maintenance positions and the CAT team, which analyzes public comments on proposed policy changes for several government agencies.
Critics of the privatization effort say the way the content team was handled points to serious flaws in the process.
``This is just a prime example of the mismanagement of this whole competitive sourcing process from the get-go,'' said Bill Dougan, president of the Forest Service Council, a union of the agency's employees. ``It's unfortunate that the agency didn't know what they were doing when they started this whole program and the (Content Analysis Team) team results are a result of that.''
Mills said closing the Missoula office and hiring contractors was the right decision. While the cost estimate showed the government employees can do the work cheaper on an hourly basis, it also showed they had significant down time, where employees were paid while not working on projects.
Private contractors have the flexibility to adapt to the workload, saving money in the long run, he said.
``I think we made the right decision for the taxpayer,'' Mills said. ``Are there some employees who would rather we made a different decision? I'm sure they would. ... But our mission is something other than just keeping people employed.''
The employees have unionized, lodged a grievance and are committed to seeing their challenge through, even if it means litigation, Vester said.
``I don't think I've ever been treated so disrespectfully in my life,'' said Holly Schneider, a dismissed analysis team member now working in her previous job as a temporary employee with a lower salary and no benefits.
``We were just a part of meeting those targets, and we were an easy group to eliminate.''