Going through the motions

It's government job inventory time again, and the Office of Management and

Budget is releasing lists of jobs at federal agencies that could be outsourced

to the private sector.

Of 258,000 jobs examined so far, about 195,000 have been found to be

"not inherently governmental," which implies that they could just as well

be contracted out. And that number is sure to grow as OMB releases more

agency inventories.

But there is little likelihood that many of the jobs will be outsourced

soon. "I don't know yet if [the inventories] have led to any outsourcing.

I'd be surprised if the answer was yes," said Christopher Mihm, an associate

director at the General Accounting Office.

A GAO review of 1999 inventories showed that more than 900,000 jobs

were deemed "not inherently governmental," but more than a year later, only

580 of those jobs were being considered for contracting out.

Nevertheless, government agencies must go through the motions of complying

with the Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act. The 1998 act requires

federal agencies to produce an annual inventory of jobs and determine whether

each is an "inherently governmental" task that must be performed by a federal

employee or "a commercial activity" that could be performed by a contract

worker.

The FAIR Act originally was supposed to require agencies to use their

inventories as a basis for outsourcing work. But as it proceeded through

Congress, the act was stripped of that power.

"It was a compromise, so it may not solve anyone's problems," said Olga

Grkavac, executive vice president with the Information Technology Association

of America's Enterprise Solutions Division. The ITAA, which represents thousands

of IT companies, hoped for a FAIR Act that would have forced agencies to

contract out IT jobs. Such a requirement could have benefited ITAA members.

When the current "toothless" version passed, the ITAA hoped that at

least it "might help stimulate outsourcing," Grkavac said. But so far, little

evidence exists that the inventories have done so.

Of the 900,000 jobs identified as "commercial activities," agencies

declared about 513,000 of them to be exempt from consideration for outsourcing,

GAO wrote in a Sept. 29 report to Congress.

The law gives organizations such as the ITAA a chance to challenge agencies'

classification of jobs as "inherently governmental" and whether jobs are

exempt from outsourcing, but challenges have yielded few changes.

The ITAA, for example, challenged about 100 individual classification

decisions by 13 agencies. But only one challenge was upheld.

"It was such an intensive effort, and we really had minimal results,"

Grkavac said. "For the amount of effort it took us to prepare the challenges,

it's not worth it."

GAO says only 3 percent of the challenges filed by industry organizations

such as the ITAA were upheld. Employees had a higher success rate — 7 percent — when protesting that their jobs should not be considered commercial.

Although the act has failed to trig-ger much outsourcing, it has sparked

a determined counter-attack by federal unions. The American Federation of

Government Employees has urged Congress to temporarily suspend outsourcing,

declaring it "a failure with respect to both costs and services."

The union has lined up more than 202 co-sponsors for legislation that

would halt outsourcing until federal agencies are able to show that they

can keep track of contractor costs. The legislation would also eliminate

agency personnel ceilings and require competitions between agency workers

and contractors before jobs could be awarded to vendors.

Union officials remain optimistic that the bill has enough support to

be reintroduced next year. A similar bill in the Senate has picked up 18

co-sponsors.

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