USGS A-76 competition suspended

The director of the U.S. Geological Survey has suspended considerations to outsource or eliminate most of the agency’s major mapping technology operations because of controversy over the integrity of selecting its new operations center's location.

Before today, USGS planned to eliminate the functions of 400 federal employees at five locations or transfer them to an operations center in Colorado. Employees at that center could provide the bulk of USGS' digital mapping service operations.

“Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Mark Limbaugh has requested that the USGS put a hold on the implementation to locate the National Geospatial Technical Operations Center (NGTOC) at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, Colo.,” said USGS Acting Director P. Patrick Leahy in a memo issued today. “Limbaugh directed a review of the decision process in light of questions raised about that process. Therefore, I am directing that no further actions be taken to implement the location decision and the A-76 competitive sourcing study pending the outcome of this review.”

The agency conducted the public/private contest, known as competitive sourcing, according to the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76 guidelines, in which federal employees and companies bid for the work.

USGS is seeking to consolidate digital mapping services because commercial remote-sensing products and other technologies have replaced field surveyors.

Federal cartographers say they will not easily find new jobs if the agency consolidates their positions.

In recent years, USGS has transformed its role from mapmaker to map distributor now that federal agencies and state, industry and nongovernmental organizations generate more geospatial data.

USGS officials had expected to release a solicitation for open bidding in January 2006 and award a contract next September.

Geospatial operations are located in Reston, Va.; Rolla, Mo.; Lakewood; Menlo Park, Calif.; and Sioux Falls, S.D.

Before today’s announcement, USGS union leaders said they feared impending workforce reductions. Sandra Hoyle, a USGS cartographic technician and acting president of the new local union in Denver, said the center where she works will lose 100 employees if an outside entity wins.

Nevertheless, Hoyle said today that she was " feeling good because I think the decision was wrong in the first place. There seems to not be any supporting documentation for Karen Siderelis,” USGS’ associate director for geospatial information and chief information officer, to decide to pick Denver.

Hoyle said she believes that USGS’ ultimate intention was to outsource the mapping jobs.

“Now, what did Ms. Siderelis have to do to get that result?” she asked. “She had to put the NGTOC in a location -- Denver -- where private industry could bid on the job and where all the partners and other federal agencies are. If Rolla had been chosen, the federal employees would have won the bid, and she could not have contracted the job out or easily shifted the jobs to the states, which is what she wants to do also.”

Union officials will now push for a high-performance organization that would split the consolidation between Rolla and Denver.

“Many more federal employees would keep their jobs, [though] not all of them,” Hoyle said.

A USGS spokeswoman said the agency does not have a timeline for reviewing the site selection, but officials hope to complete the process before the year's end.

“We want to ensure that the site selection process was as fair and equitable as possible, and this review will give us the opportunity to do that,” said Barbara Wainman, director of USGS’ office of communications.

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