IRS Workers Win Job Competition

More confirmation that, when given the opportunity to compete with the private sector for traditionally public sector jobs, government workers can prevail:

A team of Internal Revenue Service employees on Friday prevailed in a public-private competition for document-handling work, but at a cost of 166 jobs. The in-house team plans to reduce the number of employees filing, maintaining, transporting and disposing of paper tax documents from 843 to 677. The work will also be performed from six rather than eight locations, and more of it will be completed by intermittent workers. Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the win comes at too high a cost. “There is a much better way [to improve service delivery] than pitting one group of workers against another,” she said. “The better course . . . is for agencies to work with their employees on continuous improvement of work processes.” But Raymona Stickell, director of the IRS’ Office of Competitive Sourcing, said the agency reviewed a variety of options and decided that a competition had the potential to deliver substantial improvements in efficiency. The agency is providing career counseling to help the 166 affected employees find jobs either within government or in the private sector, she said. Affected workers also will be offered early outs and buyouts, and will be granted severance pay if they are involuntarily separated, Stickell said. IRS officials plan to cut the affected employees from the agency’s payroll in June 2006.

It seems that the NTEU and the IRS folks have different ideas about what constitutes “improvement.” The prospects for efficiency gains played large in the IRS decision. But NTEU only seems interested in efficiency up to the point that the first job or worker benefit is threatened. It’s obvious which approach is more likely to lead to true transformational change within the organization.