IT jobs duck outsource lists

Agencies last week released lists of thousands of jobs that could be outsourced to private companies, including some of information technology-related jobs. But critics say the way agencies released the lists could hurt vendors and federal employees who may want to challenge them.

The initial group of lists from 52 agencies included 320,000 federal jobs, one-third of which the agencies reported could be outsourced, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Only a few hundred of the jobs were IT-related.

Agencies were required to compile the lists under the Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act, which resulted from a debate over who should perform government functions that may not be what is determined "inherently governmental," from paralegal services to software development. Industry would reap a large windfall if Congress forces the government to outsource many of the functions that historically have been conducted by the government.

The Commerce Department identified 49 IT jobs at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction and another 40 IT jobs in the National Weather Service's Office of Systems Operations.

The Department of Health and Human Services identified more than 30 IT jobs, including nine automated data processing jobs at the Health Resources and Services Administration and 10 IT management jobs at the department's Administration for Children and Families.

But few in industry and government expect the lists to result in jobs shifting from the government to the private sector immediately. "I don't anticipate any [being outsourced] in the next year," said Michael Colvin, a procurement analyst at HHS. "I think it's legitimate because I think this will still be shaking out in the next year as we deal with all of the challenges."

The complex nature of the reports also complicates moves to outsource federal jobs. Agencies released their lists in different formats, using different codes to explain their decisions. This may make it difficult for industry and employees to sort out and challenge the lists within the 30 days provided by the FAIR Act.

While OMB provided "function codes" and "reason codes" for agencies to use to classify the positions, some agencies used the codes while others used their own descriptions. Even the agencies that used the official codes provided the information in different formats, making it hard to compare any two inventories.

"Because there is a lot of disparity, and the codes are not intuitive, it is going to require a lot of research. And because we have only 30 days to respond, it makes it more difficult," said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president with the Information Technology Association of America's Enterprise Solutions Division.

Bert Concklin, president of the Professional Services Council, said the issuance of separate lists instead of a central OMB-managed list makes it difficult for industry to persuade the federal government to outsource functions that are not inherently governmental.

But a senior Clinton administration official said the act's intention never was to serve as a clearinghouse for the outsourcing lists, and FAIR does not require OMB to release the lists. "This is really an agency-driven process," he said. "At OMB, while we do lots of things, rarely do we become the central archivist for the government."

Congressional Republicans view the lists as a way to whittle down the size of government. But immediately after the lists were released, many in Congress voiced their disappointment in the lists' complex formats. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the Congressional Results Caucus, sent a sharp letter to OMB director Jacob Lew, writing that the data was "not in a format that would ever be described as user-friendly."

But OMB consciously made the decision to not force agencies to follow a single format, the administration official said.

"We faced a choice of [either] proposing a guideline as a straitjacket, when we know that agencies keep their information in different formats, or we could propose minimum standards," he said.

Sessions also said OMB made it difficult to obtain the lists. "In trying to get the list of activities available for each of the 50 [agency lists] released, my staff ran into wrong numbers, obstinate staff and even agencies that said they had not prepared the lists yet," Sessions wrote.

An official at the Agriculture Department said the USDA would not mail out its inventories until today. Some agencies, including the General Services Administration, have posted their inventories on the World Wide Web.

The varying size of the lists also could be a roadblock to industry keen on grabbing federal business, Grkavac said. For example, the Education Department submitted a six-page list, while the Department of Housing and Urban Development's list is more than 700 pages. The Defense Department's inventory will not be released until the end of October, and OMB said the it will be more than 2,000 pages.

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At a Glance

OMB

Computer specialists—9

HUD

IT administrative support—29

IT management support—40.25

IT management—3

Maintenance of ADP equipment—126

Systems design, development and programming services—99

Data processing services—5.3

Other ADP activities—19

Software services—5

HHS

Health Resources and Services Admin.

ADP support—9

Administration for Children and Families

IT management 10

Systems design, development and programming services—11

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Systems design, development and programming services—3

GSA

IT administration support—5

Other ADP functions—1

Commerce

Jobs at National Centers for Environmental Prediction—49

Jobs in the National Weather Service's Office of Systems Operations—40

Jobs in the National Weather Service's Information Systems Section—6

SSA

Jobs in data center operations—24

Jobs in systems design, development and program services—13

Software services—29

Data processing management support—8

Administrative, management or data processing support—14

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