(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) today announced it has “serious” concerns about the way the Department of Agriculture handled a recent competitive bidding process. The union has filed a formal protest with the Government Accounting Office. U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) have asked for the USDA Inspector General to investigate the matter. AFGE filed the GAO protest on behalf of the special police force represented by AFGE Local 3147 at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC), operated by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Beltsville, Maryland.
“The entire competitive process started out under a cloud,” says AFGE National President John Gage, “when management told the employees that the security force would be contracted out, even without the competition. “Had the in-house bid been charged for the number of employees BARC management actually used for special police work, the in-house bid would have easily prevailed,” adds Gage.
At the request of AFGE, Maryland Senators Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes, have called for an investigation into the contract bid by the Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General. The Senators have also requested that the Secretary of Agriculture hold off on any adverse actions to be taken against the current workforce until the Inspector General determines if the competition was conducted properly.
AFGE points out in its GAO bid protest that BRAC management originally declared last year that it was going to award the work currently performed by the special police force to contractors without giving the employees an opportunity to submit their own bid in defense of their jobs. Following the release of new ground rules for conducting pubic-private competitions—which discouraged the conversion of government work directly to contractors—management announced that it would use a streamlined competition process. This new streamlined process doesn’t require that federal employees be allowed to submit their most competitive bid.
At the core of AFGE’s protest to GAO is the excessive number of employees management used in developing the costs for the current in-house federal workforce to retain the work. According to documents supplied by management, the in-house bid was charged for the costs of 24 employees. Yet, an email written in November 2003 by the Chief of Human Resources Unit (Eastern Branch) acknowledges that the special police workforce included only 14 employees. In addition, the police supervisor of the special police force affirmed that in his 37 years of tenure the force had never included 24 employees.
AFGE notes that the privatization of the special police function would have a disproportionate impact on federal employees who are veterans or members of minority groups. Nearly two-thirds of the affected employees are members of minority groups, according to ARA’s Office of Civil Rights.