USGS lifts suspension on A-76 jobs competition

Controversy will not impede agency’s plans to consolidate electronic-mapping functions

The U.S. Geological Survey will proceed with an A-76 jobs competition to determine whether federal or private-sector employees will operate a new mapping center in Lakewood, Colo. Agency officials decided to open the federal jobs to outside competition despite congressional criticism of how USGS chose Colorado as the new center’s location.

Whether the center’s operations are outsourced or handled by federal employees, the new National Geospatial Technical Operations Center (NGTOC) will eliminate all employee positions in each of USGS’ four regional centers, agency officials said. Those centers are in Reston, Va.; Rolla, Mo.; Menlo Park, Calif.; and Lakewood. The outcome of the competition, which will be governed by the Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A-76 rules, could eliminate as many as 250 federal jobs.

USGS publishes most official U.S. maps. The agency wants to outsource or eliminate most of its mapping technology operations because commercial remote-sensing products and other advanced technologies have replaced field surveyors. The center will house most of USGS’ digital mapping services.

Officials estimate that the consolidated center will require only 100 to 150 employees instead of the nearly 400 who operated the four regional centers during the past fiscal year. If retained, most of the federal employees would probably come from the Colorado mapping center, officials said.

USGS had planned to solicit bids in January. But last fall, the Interior Department suspended the competition because of a dispute over the site’s selection. At Congress’ request, Interior Inspector General Earl Devaney began an investigation into the process that USGS used in choosing the Colorado site.

Devaney issued a memo in February stating that his office had uncovered no misconduct. But he added that USGS officials were not completely open in explaining how they came to their decision.

“No evidence was found to suggest that competitive-sourcing decisions influenced the NGTOC site selection or that candidate sites were not given equal consideration for selection,” Devaney wrote. “Ultimately, however, senior USGS managers and decision-makers failed to effectively communicate their instructions or wishes to these participating employees, paving the way for confusion, frustration and distrust.”

Devaney concluded that he did not have the power to judge whether the selection criteria were appropriate or whether USGS officials should be allowed to continue with their plans. Industry officials have lobbied for USGS to determine whether its geospatial activities duplicate what other agencies, states and companies are doing. In recent years, the agency has shifted its activities from mapmaking to distribution. Other federal agencies and state, industry and nongovernmental organizations now produce most of the geospatial data USGS uses. Some USGS officials say it is inevitable that those changes will affect federal jobs. “We have made it clear that we intend to consolidate and significantly downsize these functions,” said Barbara Wainman, director of USGS’ Office of Communications and Outreach. “That is an indication that a lot of people will not have jobs at the end of this process.”

When USGS announced the A-76 competition, some federal cartographers said they would not easily find new jobs after the agency consolidates their positions. Sandra Hoyle, a USGS cartographic technician and acting president of the local union in Denver, had said she believes USGS’ ultimate intention is to outsource mapping jobs.

Hoyle had said USGS chose a location that was near private contractors to make the A-76 competition more enticing to industry. If Rolla were the center’s location, for example, federal employees could easily win the bid and prevent the agency from outsourcing its mapmakers’ work, she had added.

Hoyle said in an e-mail message last week that she has been asked not to make any more comments on the subject.

The IG’s investigation changed only the timing of the contract award, USPS officials said. They had expected to award a contract in September, but they now plan to issue a request for proposals in June and award a contract in March 2007.

Wainman said USGS has taken many steps to address employees’ concerns. Fifty-nine workers have accepted buyouts offered in December and late February, and USGS has provided retirement planning assistance and other human resources services.

For workers who are not ready to retire, the agency is conducting seminars on résumé writing, interview techniques and job search strategies. USGS has distributed a career transition book and is working with the Defense Department’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to transfer as many as 100 employees from the Rolla center to NGA’s offices in St. Louis.

NGA has 100 jobs available in image analysis, geospatial analysis and cartography for employees willing to commute or move, USGS officials said. USGS will likely partner with outside agencies to temporarily assign some employees to other government offices, where job seekers might find a match.

Lawmakers opposed to the agency’s plan question how USGS will continue to function as a mapping agency after its mapping operations shrink. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), who requested the IG investigation, said her chief concern is that USGS does not seem prepared to continue its mapping functions in full after operations cease at the Rolla location.

Emerson said some of those functions support vital preparedness and response plans for a potential earthquake along the New Madrid Fault Zone, which extends through several states including Missouri. The Homeland Security Department has designated the zone its No. 2 priority for domestic natural disaster preparedness.

Shift in jobs will reshape USGS

The U.S. Geological Survey plans to consolidate electronic-mapping jobs in Colorado and close regional centers in which employees conduct research on a variety of challenges. Regional USGS employees focus on research to:

  • Develop geographic information science and remote-sensing tools that can help predict landslides.

  • Predict, assess and mitigate natural and man-made hazards.

  • Monitor land-use changes in relation to population, disease and development.

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