House Funding Puts the Brakes on Privatizing at Forest Service
The House FY08 Interior Appropriations Bill includes a provision, Section 414(a)(2), blocking privatization studies in the Forest Service. “As one of the unions that represents Forest Service employees, AFGE is pleased that the civil service workforce will be able to focus on fulfilling the agency’s important mission,” declared AFGE National President John Gage, “instead of worrying about being victimized by an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) privatization quota, thanks to House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Norm Dicks (D-WA). Ultimately, however, we must shut down privatization efforts in all agencies funded by the Interior Bill if we want to get rid of the privatization quotas.”
The use of numerical privatization quotas by the Department of Interior (DoI) and related agencies, despite a Congressional prohibition and an ostensible OMB repudiation, is extensive and well-documented. In documents obtained last year by AFGE, DoI is charged by OMB with reviewing for privatization 1,400 employees in FY07, which is almost twice the number of employees reviewed for privatization by DoI in FY06 and a significant number, considering that DoI is one of the smaller cabinet-level departments—with a workforce of 67,000 employees.
In a June 6, 2006, memorandum from Paul Hoffman, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Performance, Accountability, and Human Resources, it is written, “The Department’s FY2005-2008 Competitive Sourcing Green Plan approved by OMB in January 2005, projected that we would announce competitions involving approximately 1,400 FTE during FY2007…(T)he Department’s Green Plan was approved by OMB based on the overall level of commitment made by all of the bureaus/equivalent offices to support the President’s Management Agenda. While substitutions based on sound business decisions and preliminary planning efforts are perfectly appropriate, we expect bureaus/equivalent offices to maintain at least a level of competitive sourcing activity to honor the original commitment.” In other words, while the details might change, DoI must review at least 1,400 jobs for privatization.
The chart attached to the Hoffman memo (DoI 2007 Commercial Activities Likely To Be Announced For Competition) has blank spaces for several categories: bureaus, # of FTE, announcement date, type of competition, and comments, but one item is filled in already—1,400, the total number of FTE to be reviewed for privatization. In other words, the entire objective of the FY2007 competitive sourcing effort is to come up with 1,400 jobs to review for privatization; it doesn’t matter how those jobs are chosen, whether DoI managers believe those choices to be in the best interests of taxpayers or the agency’s mission, because all that ultimately matters is meeting the quota established by OMB that the department review for privatization 1,400 jobs.
There is a palpable sense of anxiety in the August 17, 2006, Competitive Sourcing Team Meeting Minutes, “For `07 we only have 117 FTE + 118 Fire FTE (if we can study these) for a total of 253 FTE out of the 1400 FTE number we submitted to OMB.” The meeting minutes even desperately muse that, “We might be able to count 156 JWOD direct conversions.” Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) Act direct conversions to the blind and the handicapped obviously have nothing to do with public-private competitions. After much scrambling, DoI was able to cobble together more jobs to meet the OMB quota, according to the November 16, 2006, Competitive Sourcing Team Meeting Minutes. Nevertheless, the obsession with meeting the OMB quota is inescapable: “If we are not allowed to study Fire, we will be short approx. 400 FTE on the 2007 Green Plan. We will need the Bureau’s to substitute FTE in order to meet our commitments.” OMB is still not pleased by the DoI effort. According to the January 18, 2007, Competitive Sourcing Team Meeting Minutes, “OMB did not accept NPS’s (National Park Services’) green plan and we will be working with NPS this quarter to resubmit a more robust plan”. In other words, OMB is forcing NPS to review more employees for privatization than what is thought appropriate by NPS career managers.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 700,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.