Latest FAIR lists set up battle lines
- By Diane Frank
- Dec 09, 2001
OMB FAIR Act site
The latest list of federal jobs that are potential candidates for outsourcing to the private sector has drawn stark battle lines between the private sector and government workers.
In a break with early listings, which are provided by the Office of Management and Budget, some agencies not only have listed jobs they consider commercial in nature, but also those they think are not.
So instead of just providing a bidder's to-do list, the government is giving the information technology industry a better understanding of what it considers "inherently governmental" — a classification that some might contest.
"It's important, because otherwise you really don't know what to challenge," said Cathy Garman, vice president of public policy at the Contract Services Association of America.
OMB approves agencies' listings in compliance with the Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act of 1998. When agencies released the first inventories in 1999, industry groups asked OMB to require agencies to list positions considered inherently governmental as well, which would give industry an opportunity to challenge agencies' decisions to protect those jobs from outsourcing. Though not required to do so by law, several agencies have listed such jobs now, including the Commerce Department, which listed almost 600 inherently governmental IT jobs in addition to 980 IT jobs that could be outsourced.
Edna Campbell, Commerce's contact for the FAIR Act within the Office of Executive Budgeting and Assistance Management, said the department released the inherently governmental list because there was no reason not to.
"OMB has encouraged all of the departments and agencies over several years to provide as much information as we feel comfortable with, and we didn't have an issue with releasing" the inherently governmental list, Campbell said.
But officials with the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal union representing 600,000 government workers, said the release of inherently governmental positions only underscores what they consider an unfair process. AFGE contends that agencies must list inherently governmental positions, although private companies are not required to list the job functions they perform for government.
The inherently governmental list "provides a shopping list for contractors to go to members of Congress and say that these jobs should be outsourced," said Brendan Danaher, a policy analyst at AFGE focusing on FAIR Act issues. "And yet there is no reciprocity; federal employees cannot take a list of what contractors are doing and say these jobs should not be outsourced."
The inherently governmental lists will facilitate industry challenges, Garman said. "It makes it easier for the people who understand the business of an agency and who do business with that agency to recognize whether there is something on [the inherently governmental] list that doesn't belong there," she said.
Commerce received several challenges to its 1999 inventory, but none for the 2000 inventory, even though officials expected them, Campbell said. The department and OMB released the 2001 inventory almost a month ago, and although interested parties have only 30 working days to file challenges, Commerce has not yet received any, she said.
The Information Technology Association of America also called for the release of agencies' full inventories in 1999. But the group, which represents more than 500 technology companies, decided not to focus on the FAIR Act as part of its 2000 and 2001 agenda because its procurement policy division did not believe that challenging the lists would bring about much change, said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of ITAA's Enterprise Solutions Division.
Other changes to the federal outsourcing process will likely cause ITAA to take up the issue of the FAIR Act as part of its agenda for the coming year, Grkavac said.
The Bush administration requires agencies to compete at least 5 percent of the commercial jobs in fiscal 2002 and another 10 percent in fiscal 2003. The General Accounting Office's public/private-sector Commercial Activities Panel is considering changes to the competition and outsourcing process, with a final report due to Congress in May 2002.
Federal officials are also closely watching these changes, Campbell said. "It's kind of keeping everyone on their toes because we don't know where we're going from here," she said.