Washington, DC — In the recently signed 2008 Omnibus Appropriation Act, Congress effectively ended Bush administration efforts to outsource thousands of natural resource and environmental protection jobs, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
A centerpiece of its Management Agenda, the White House’s “Competitive Sourcing Initiative” is designed to put any federal job not classified as “inherently governmental” out to bid by private firms. As many as two out of three U.S. Forest Service jobs were targeted for potential outsourcing. Similar efforts in the National Park Service initially covered nearly one out of six permanent jobs system-wide. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service was also ordered to study contracting out many of its biologist positions.
Buried in the new budget bill is a complete ban on further activities directed toward outsourcing any Forest Service jobs. That legislation also severely limits any outsourcing-related activities within the Interior Department to $3.5 million to complete ongoing studies. In addition, the Interior Department would have to assess the effects outsourcing would have on its ability “to effectively and efficiently fight and manage wildfires.” The Interior Department contains the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – all three agencies with significant “competitive sourcing” targets – and many of its staff have collateral fire response duties.
“Congress just put a bullet into the heart of the Bush administration’s strategy to commercialize resource management,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization has campaigned against the Competitive Sourcing Initiative since 2002. “The Forest and Park Services need a respite from these expensive and disruptive outsourcing exercises.”
In previous years, even Republican-controlled Congresses were persuaded to slow the pace of this effort once the costs of staging the competitions (which had to be absorbed out of agency operational budgets) and its potential effects became clear. This latest budgetary restriction, covering the last full year of the Bush administration, appears to ring the death knell for what was a key plank of its Management Agenda.
Notwithstanding the fate of Competitive Sourcing, overall the federal government has become more contractor-dependant during the Bush years, particularly in the Defense Department, where reliance on mega-contractors such as Halliburton became controversial. While there is no census of federal contract employees, studies indicate that private contractors far outnumber the federal workforce, with between three and four contract employees for each civil servant.
“The demise of this plan to privatize everything that moves is welcome,” Ruch added. “Competitive Sourcing had become a mindless numbers game played with civil servants’ jobs without regard to any adverse effects outsourcing has on agency capacity to accomplish its mission.”