Army IT jobs under scrutiny

The Army disclosed this month its intention of possibly putting more than 200,000 positions classified as "noncore competencies" out for bid, including more than 55,000 jobs related to information technology and communications.

Army Secretary Thomas White said the service cannot truly change unless its business processes are part of its plans to transform into the Objective Force — a strategy to develop advanced IT tools, vehicles and weaponry to make the Army's armored forces more agile and lethal, and better able to survive an all-out fight. The Army has devoted 97 percent of its fiscal 2003 science and technology budget to the design and development of the Objective Force and enabling technologies.

In an Oct. 4 memo, White wrote that the service "must focus its energies and talents on its core competencies — functions we perform better than anyone else — and seek to obtain other needed products or services from the private sector where it makes sense."

White said the Army will "privatize every noncore function" for which Army commanders can develop an effective business case. The Army has begun outsourcing the construction and renovation of its family housing units — some of which are decrepit — and will spend $700 million to privatize that function in fiscal 2003. Army officials expect to complete the outsourcing by 2007.

White added that any noncore IT and communications function also could be outsourced. According to Army documents, the jobs eligible for outsourcing include more than 53,000 military and civilian noncore functions in the office of the assistant secretary for acquisitions, logistics and technology, and more than 12,000 total positions in the chief information officer's office.

"We're already doing that business with [the Defense Information Systems Agency], where roughly 85 percent of the work is outsourced," White told Federal Computer Week after an Oct. 3 luncheon speech sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's Washington, D.C., chapter.

John Anderson, assistant deputy assistant secretary of the Army for manpower, said the Army's goal is to find the "best source provider" to keep pace with emerging technologies, best commercial practices and the service's aging workforce.

Officials at the Army's new Network Enterprise Technology Command (Netcom) would make the decision to privatize any IT or communications function, White told FCW, but "any time we can take a noncore function and get a value proposition for it, we'll do it."

Col. Mark Barnette, chief of the information infrastructure modernization division in the Army CIO's office, said that as the service continues to implement its enterprise IT vision, which focuses on reducing the costs of maintaining information systems servicewide and integrating knowledge management concepts and best practices into Army processes, it is evolving its management approach of IT supporting warfighters and Army business processes.

"Since we are still in the preliminary stage of organizing ourselves to make these kinds of commercial sourcing decisions, we have not identified any specific IT areas for outsourcing at this time," Barnette said. "We expect Netcom to perform ongoing assessments for sourcing strategies in providing IT services that are compatible and support our ability to engage in overseas theaters and the Army's mission to deploy and fight. We expect this to happen in late [fiscal] 2003 and 2004."

In an Oct. 10 meeting with reporters, Anderson repeatedly referred to the secretary's guidance as a "preconditional study" and said no final decisions had been made. Until Oct. 29, Army commanders can request that jobs be exempted from the outsourcing directive; White will decide on those requests by Dec. 20.

The Army would begin the process of outsourcing jobs in March 2003.

But the Army may run into opposition in Congress. Cathy Travis, communications director for Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas), the ranking member on the Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, said Ortiz was "unhappy" with the Army's outsourcing plan and is "in the process of asking for a hearing to review it."

"I have not had an opportunity to review the Army's outsourcing plan," said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "I expect the Army and the other military services to comply with legal requirements for public/private competition before the outsourcing of any functions that are currently performed by public employees."

Opposition also came from Jacqueline Simon, public policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees, who called the memo "a scandal."

"It has nothing to do with public/private competition," Simon said. "It's about shifting work to contractors, and whatever alternatives the Army wants to use, they can use."

Anderson, however, argued that Congress mandates that the Army conduct an annual personnel authorization review to assess the best mix of military, civilian and contract employees. "We want to get the best bang for the buck for these types of [noncore positions] and get the military in functions where they've been trained to perform," he said.

Jim Wakefield, deputy chairman of the Army's Non-Core Competencies Working Group, said that during the ongoing second wave of outsourcing, which began in fiscal 1997, 13,000 positions reached the final decision process, resulting in 375 civilians losing their jobs through July of this year. Military personnel whose positions are outsourced or eliminated are rotated to other units, he said.

The Army has not determined how it will outsource the jobs. "We're still in the middle of vetting things," Anderson said. "That's why we're 'predecisional.' "

When asked what percentage of the more than 213,000 jobs now deemed noncore might result in civilian layoffs, Wakefield said he had "no basis to say whether it will be higher, lower or the same, but we're hoping it will be the same low percentage."

Army's outsourcing plans

Army Secretary Thomas White's Oct. 4 memo signified the start of the "third wave" of public/ private competition. It differs from the previous two waves because it includes functions besides the base operations of logistics, public works, information management and training ranges.

The memo says the third wave will also be "bigger and faster" by including the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76, which outlines how to determine whether government services should be outsourced, as well as a number of alternatives. Those alternatives include city/base partnerships, strategic partnering and quasi-governmental corporations, which require congressional legislation and approval from OMB, according to Army documents.

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