Keeping TRAC of jobs

Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) collected more than 100 co- sponsors when he re-introduced the Truthfulness, Responsibility and Accountability in Contracting (TRAC) Act in February.

The bill, which is a new version of legislation that died in Congress last year, would suspend privatizing or outsourcing federal work until the federal government establishes reporting and monitoring systems to track the costs of contracting. Currently, federal agencies blindly assume that promised savings from outsourcing are being realized, but nobody is watching the store. Government managers have been caught asleep at the wheel.

Once again, Congress is trying to legislate good management. It's pathetic that it had to get to this point. Why aren't federal managers concerned about operational costs? Can you imagine a manager in a private-sector firm not monitoring expenses? He wouldn't last very long.

In this instance, not only are government managers failing to monitor costs, they're not even watching their own backs. Monitoring contractor costs can potentially save government jobs if the data shows that it's more expensive to outsource. These guys aren't even good bureaucrats, let alone good managers.

Meanwhile, all of the government employee unions are complaining about outsourcing. The best way to prevent having government jobs outsourced is to show that the government would save money by doing the work in-house. Wynn should be commended for stepping in and trying to take charge, but you have to ask yourself why government managers didn't do this on their own.

A right-wing think tank called the Reason Public Policy Institute maintains, "There is much evidence to show that privatization has resulted in few, if any, layoffs and that public employees can actually benefit in the long term from private-sector management." According to this outfit, out-sourcing is good for feds. Yeah, right!

These guys have the chutzpah to say, "Reductions in force are usually accomplished through attrition instead of layoffs. Private contractors and public officials are aware of the intense opposition privatization can create, and have developed effective strategies to soften, if not overcome, such objections. Reducing the workforce through attrition to an efficient level provides private contractors the time to win over employees and establish a level of trust."

The more I delve into this, the funnier it gets. The unions are complaining about something that their members could have prevented. And the contractors are saying that outsourcing doesn't result in a loss of jobs! Well, if it doesn't, then why do it? I thought outsourcing was supposed to produce savings. You may want to tell your friends who enjoy the comics to read this column.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at miltzall@starpower.net.

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