OMB releases first round of 2001 FAIR Act lists

More than 200,000 federal jobs could be performed in the private sector under the 1998 Federal Activities and Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act, according to the first round of 2001 job inventories released Wednesday. Fifty-seven agencies, including the Energy Department, NASA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Veterans Affairs Department were included in the first round of 2001 FAIR Act lists published by the Office of Management and Budget in Wednesday's Federal Register. Of the 310,507 jobs included in the first round, 74 percent, or 228,631 positions, are eligible to be performed in the private sector under the rules of the FAIR Act. The FAIR Act requires agencies to compile annual inventories of jobs that are "commercial in nature" and could be performed by contractors. Every year OMB reviews the lists and then releases them to Congress and the public in three rounds. Agencies' FAIR Act inventories for 2001 were due to OMB on June 30. In March 2000, OMB told agencies to post their FAIR Act inventories on their Web sites. But many of the newly released lists, including OMB's, were nowhere to be found online, according to a brief survey by GovExec.com. Even though OMB provided a URL for each agency, in many cases the URL pointed to the agency's home page, with no reference to where the FAIR Act list is located on the Web site. Brendan Danaher, a policy analyst for the American Federation of Government Employees, questioned the Bush administration's timing in releasing the first round of the 2001 FAIR Act lists. "In light of the awful events this month, we were hoping that the administration would understand the importance of performing work in-house. At this time above all, we should be reconsidering this headlong rush to privatize government activities," he said. But OMB spokesman Chris Ullman dismissed the argument, saying, "AFGE was against the FAIR Act before the [Sept. 11 terrorist attacks], and they are merely looking for additional excuses as to why we shouldn't do this." In an interview with GovExec.com last week, OMB Deputy Director Sean O'Keefe said that competitive sourcing and the other major goals of the President's management plan are now even more important in light of the terrorist attacks. "Shoot, we are trying to acquire means to deliver all manner of crisis response capabilities. That's all the more reason why we have to think about how we competitively source," he said. The 2001 FAIR Act lists are the first the Bush administration has reviewed. "In the past this law hasn't had teeth," said Danaher. But in March O'Keefe revitalized the FAIR Act by ordering agencies to directly outsource or perform public-private competitions on 5 percent of their 2000 FAIR Act inventories, or 42,500 federal jobs, by October 2002. In budget guidance for fiscal 2003, OMB directed agencies to outsource or perform public-private competitions on 10 percent of all commercial jobs by October 2003, for a total of 15 percent. Because holding public-private competitions under OMB Circular A-76 is a time-consuming process, many agencies might use an option to directly convert jobs to the private sector without public-private competition to meet the 10 percent goal by 2003, Danaher said. "What [the 10 percent goal] really means is that agencies will be forced to privatize work without any kind of competition," he said. Under the FAIR Act, contractors, unions and employees can challenge the lists if they think jobs should have been, or should not have been, included. In 1999, when the first FAIR Act lists were published, contractors and unions filed several challenges with agencies, but only about 6 percent of challenges to the largest federal agencies' FAIR Act lists were successful. Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council (PSC), said he is "paying less attention" to the FAIR Act and likely will not take any action on the 2001 lists. "It's good information, but we're not spending time on challenges. They have been virtually impossible," he said. Unlike PSC, the American Federation of Government Employees plans to challenge any job on the FAIR Act list that is inherently governmental, Danaher said.
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