Forest Service to study outsourcing IT jobs

The Agriculture Department's Forest Service announced last week that it plans to conduct a study on whether it should outsource information technology work conducted by 1,200 of its employees.

The Forest Service is following the guidelines laid out in the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76 cost comparison study, which seeks to analyze the cost of having federal workers do the service's IT work or outsourcing it to a contractor.

The agency expects to complete the study by Sept. 30.

"The object of the competitive sourcing initiative is to increase government performance and efficiency through the use of public/private competitions," said Joan Golden, deputy director for the service's Integrated Resource Management.

The study is one of a few undertaken by civilian agencies. President Bush, in the President's Management Agenda, has asked agencies to conduct the studies to improve performance and lower costs. He has set a goal that by the end of this fiscal year, agencies must put out for bid 15 percent of the jobs not considered inherently governmental or related to the missions.

"It's a fundamental rethinking of how the agency is conducting its IT functions," said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

Considering the recent comments that Mark Forman, OMB's associate director for IT and e-government, made about the government's need to compete and hold onto quality IT workers, the study is not a surprise, and several other agencies will do the same, Allen said.

"In fact, it would follow that an agency would look at whether outsourcing IT would make sense," he said. "It's not just what Forman's saying; it's also one of the major management initiatives of [the Bush] administration."

The study includes all of the agency's IT-related positions. Forest Service management, employees and union representatives make up the teams carrying out the study. The Forest Service will freeze all IT job vacancies to minimize the need for workforce reduction and will manage the study's impact on the staff.

To the employees whose jobs are being studied, Allen said, "I wouldn't necessarily be packing your bags yet."

He said many of the workers would likely keep their positions but change employers should the agency choose to outsource.

However, National Federation of Federal Employees President Rick Brown said the Bush administration "has declared war on federal employees" and is not considering the best value, which weighs costs and the quality of service.

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Studying the infrastructure

The Forest Service will study how it delivers in the following areas:

* Desktop support.

* Server support.

* Database management.

* Telecommunications.

* IT security.

* IT infrastructure design, integration, testing and delivery.

* IT management.

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