NIMA looks to vendors

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"Redrawing the map"

The National Imagery and Mapping Agency makes no bones about it: By the end of the year, contractors will perform much of the work currently done by government employees.

By fiscal 2003, contractors will outnumber the government employees working at NIMA, a trend that NIMA's director said w0uld continue despite strong opposition from a federal labor union.

Speaking earlier this month at the asymmetric warfare symposium sponsored by the Association of the U.S. Army, NIMA Director James Clapper Jr. said the agency is experiencing a wave of retirements but is encouraging employees who were going to "age out" to return to work at NIMA as contractors.

"We dovetail that [attrition] with the expansion of the contractor community, and I think that's the way to do it," Clapper told Federal Computer Week. "By fiscal 2003, [full-time equivalents] will exceed the government workforce, and that trend will continue, which I think is appropriate."

The strategy does not sit well with Brendan Donaher, a policy analyst with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents NIMA workers.

"After [Sept. 11], the employees at NIMA worked 24/7 for a month or two providing maps and other information to defense and intelligence agencies," Danaher said. "In light of that, the agency needs to rethink its decision to privatize work so directly tied to the war on terrorism and understand that these are inherently governmental positions."

Olga Grkavac, an executive vice president of the Information Technology Association of America, said she was not surprised to hear that contractors would soon outnumber NIMA's government employees because 40 percent to 60 percent of government employees will become eligible for retirement in the next three to four years.

NIMA anticipated that attrition, which is a good thing, Grkavac said, especially since replacing personnel who have classified clearances is difficult.

A major part of NIMA's growing reliance on contractors involves an information technology and services contract awarded in December 2001 to the Alaskan joint venture corporation NJVC LLC, which comprises Chenega Technology Services Corp. and Arctic Slope Regional Corp. Communications (see box).

Peter O'Neill, general manager of NJVC, said the contract came "as a consequence of the federal government's policy directive to move work that is not inherently governmental in nature to the private sector."

O'Neill said the benefits to NIMA include lower costs, upgrading the agency's IT infrastructure and "improving the economic prospects of native Alaskans who are NJVC shareholders."

The NJVC contract became a hot topic last summer because NIMA awarded it without competition. Agencies are allowed by law to award noncompetitive, sole-source contracts to companies with a majority ownership by native Alaskans.

Donaher said the contract is "completely offensive" to employees because it was awarded without competition and therefore can offer no proof that it would save money or make NIMA more efficient.

NIMA spokeswoman Joan Mears said the "contract has not had a negative impact on NIMA or the agency's support to [Operation] Enduring Freedom."

Currently, there are more than 150 employees working for NJVC, and nearly 120 of them are former NIMA employees, Mears said.

"No one is forced to leave NIMA," she said. "Employees in jobs targeted for NJVC who do not want to leave the agency may transition to another job in NIMA. If necessary, training will be provided to assist an employee to transition to another position."

***

Switching sides

A contract awarded by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency in December 2001 to the Alaskan joint venture corporation NJVC LLC will affect about 600 NIMA employees.

During the next seven years, about 600 NIMA employees could voluntarily leave their government jobs and accept contract positions with NJVC. About 300 positions will be affected in the Washington, D.C., area, and about 300 positions will be affected in the St. Louis and Arnold, Mo., areas, according to NIMA.

The so-called phased preferential procurement allows NIMA to manage the transition by timing it to retirement eligibility.

The contract provides NIMA with long-term information technology-related support in seven areas: printing, digital replication, networks, distributed and centralized systems, operational help desk, voice and video, and library research services.

If all options are exercised, the contract has a potential term of 15 years and a value of $2.2 billion. About two-thirds of the value comes from existing contracts that will be consolidated as their current terms expire, NIMA spokeswoman Joan Mears said.

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