Union calls FAIR Act lists a waste of time

klunney@govexec.com

The largest federal employee union yesterday called for a fair playing field when it comes to competing with industry for jobs.

The Office of Management and Budget released the first round of Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act inventories last Friday, listing more than 194,000 federal jobs that may be outsourced to private firms.

Brendan Danaher, policy analyst for the national office of the American Federation of Government Employees, said compiling lists of potential jobs that could be outsourced to private firms was a waste of time, and argued for equal oversight for both contractors and federal employees.

"Generally, our concern is that it's [compiling job lists] a waste of time, and that we'd be a lot better off if we spent our time tracking the costs of contractors, rather than making laundry lists for contractors to get more jobs that have no oversight," Danaher said.

George Sigalos, spokesman for the Contract Services Association, said the organization was still reviewing the list released last week. CSA is a nonprofit organization that represents the contracting industry.

Under the FAIR Act, agencies are required to develop the lists as a means of determining how many federal employees' jobs are inherently governmental and how many could be contracted out. Agencies must update the lists annually and give contractors and employees the opportunity to challenge designations of jobs. Last year was the first year that agencies had to comply with the act.

The idea behind the FAIR Act is to ensure that agencies use outsourcing as a cost-savings strategy when it is feasible to do so.

"Let people compete for their jobs," said Danaher. "That is how you are going to save money."

Agencies are required to post their FAIR Act lists on their Web sites, and must classify jobs in one of the following categories:

  • Inherently governmental, which means the work cannot be performed by commercial companies.
  • Commercial, which means the work can be performed by commercial companies.
  • Commercial exempt, which means the work could be performed by commercial companies but is prohibited from being outsourced by federal law.
The first round of FAIR Act inventories covers 258,000 employees at 26 agencies. Approximately 75 percent, or 194,719 of those jobs could be outsouced, OMB said. The list will grow as all agencies issue reports on their commercial activities in the coming months.

"We are anxiously awaiting the full list," said Stefanie Starkey, manager of privatization policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "We definitely want to see a level playing field," she said.

OMB will give people 30 working days to submit challenges to the FAIR Act list. Last year, federal workers and contractors could appeal the designation of jobs within 30 calendar days from when the agency made the FAIR Act list available.

Federal unions and contractors challenged the designations of thousands of jobs in 1999, but agencies changed only a handful in either direction.

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