Unions protest 'privatization'

Sporting signs with slogans such as "Privatization, from the folks who brought you Enron," a vocal but determined group of federal employees and union officials gathered at Washington D.C.'s Freedom Plaza May 20 to protest the Bush administration's plans for turning federal work over to private companies.

About 200 people gathered at the plaza, just two blocks from the White House and within view of the Capitol, to denounce policies that they say put corporate profits over the public interest.

"Privatization of the federal government is something that would hurt many people for not justification," said Leroy Warren Jr., chairman of the NAACP's Federal Sector Task Force. "Privatization is the government-sponsored unemployment of its employees."

The rally was primarily organized by the American Federation of Government Employees, and included speakers from unions and agencies, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Departments of Justice, Interior and Agriculture.

Protestors were there to oppose new or proposed administration plans that force agencies to compete work that has historically been done by agency employees, raising the possibility that private corporations could take it over. The Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76, which governs such competitive sourcing, came under heavy fire at the rally.

Measures like the Services Acquisition Reform Act, sponsored by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), will make it easier for agencies to hire private firms, and other measures will give them incentives or mandates to do so. Many federal employees and their union representatives see little benefit in the administration's agenda. Companies are motivated by profit, not public service, they said.

Leora Rosen, an employee with the Justice Department, said her office is responsible for gathering information on criminal suspects and others, maintain information systems that contain the data, and guard it against improper release. Employees there have to disclose their financial information to ensure there is not even the appearance of a conflict of interest, she said.

"All this is about to change. With the stroke of a pen, the administration has determined that what we do is commercial," she said. "All of these functions could soon go to a private contractor that says it will perform them at the lowest price."

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