EPA selects jobs for outsourcing

About 200 agency positions will be up for competition each year

A wide range of federal jobs at the Environmental Protection Agency considered exempt from competitive sourcing efforts are being reclassified as eligible for bidding by the private sector.

The EPA's Competitive Sourcing Council is working to publicly identify by July which functional areas will be eligible for public/private competition through 2008, according to a memo sent to agency employees June 14.

The council's recommendations will be reflected in the agency's Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act registry of jobs eligible for competition, an EPA spokeswoman said. Updated FAIR Act reports are due to the Office of Management and Budget by June 30.

Competitive sourcing is a controversial part of the President's Management Agenda. It encourages agencies to cut costs by competing with the private sector for federal jobs that are not inherently governmental.

"You will see a very broad spectrum of positions" newly slated for competition, said Kim Nelson, the EPA's chief information officer, speaking last week to an industry audience. "There's now an absolute firm commitment by management at EPA to look at job classification much more broadly than we did before."

Data analysis, for example, is not inherently governmental, Nelson said. Only the policy decisions made as a result of that analysis need to be handled by civil servants, she said.

Starting this year, an average of 200 EPA positions will be competed each year for the next four years. In 2005, most of those jobs will be in information technology and administrative support, the memo states. Federal employees won 91 percent of all job competitions in fiscal 2004, although OMB officials say they want more private-sector wins.

OMB officials released guidance last month that instructs agencies that no job except for contracting officers should automatically be exempt from competitive sourcing.

The EPA has competed 38 positions. Institutional resistance toward competitive sourcing has prevented the agency from competing jobs, Nelson added. It is difficult for many EPA employees to believe that more positions could possibly be performed by the private sector, she said. IT contractors already outnumber in-house IT workers by 10 to 1.

Back-office functions moved to cross-agency service centers will be counted as jobs that have been competitively sourced, Nelson said, adding that the EPA will be among the agencies that eliminate an in-house financial management system and convert to an outside solution in the next year.

Agency plans drew criticism from two of the unions that represent EPA workers, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU).

The definition of inherently governmental jobs "has not changed, and our employees' jobs have not changed, so it is difficult to imagine how Ms. Nelson plans to reclassify inherently governmental functions as suddenly commercial and thus fair game for privatization," said Diana Price, an AFGE procurement specialist.

The EPA has not built a business case for more competitive sourcing, said Colleen Kelley, NTEU's president.

"It's unfortunate that the agency cannot obtain support for business process improvement and process re-engineering activities that would retain jobs and improve efficiency in a far less disruptive and less costly way," she said.

EPA's score card blues

The Environmental Protection Agency earned a middling yellow score in the competitive sourcing column in the most recent quarterly President's Management Agenda score card, a rating tool most people acknowledge strongly motivates agencies to change their behavior.

The yellow scores in the current status and progress areas of the score card are due partially to the agency's decision to pull back from potentially outsourcing its human resources function. It did so after a governmentwide effort to consolidate back-office systems was announced, said Kim Nelson, the EPA's chief information officer.

That score should go up following the agency's refocused competitive sourcing effort, she added.

But the score card forces agencies to set arbitrary competitive sourcing goals, said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents some EPA employees. "This move will only lead to decreases in morale among EPA employees," she said.

— David Perera

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