Homeland Security agencies could get pass on new job competitions

The biggest government reorganization in 50 years may bring a partial reprieve from competitive sourcing to agencies moving to the Homeland Security Department.

On a case-by-case basis, the Office of Management and Budget will consider whether agencies headed to the new department should get a pass from new public-private job competitions, according to Angela Styles, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at OMB. But competitions already under way should continue, she said in a recent interview with Government Executive.

"I don't want the initiative to grind to a halt, but certainly we have to be understanding that there are some other priorities here," she said. "Certainly our priority is keeping the [competitions] that are going, going."

Styles' comments signal that OMB will negotiate with Homeland Security agencies over whether they should hold any new competitions in fiscal 2004. But continuing ongoing competitions means that thousands of federal employees will be competing for their jobs as they move into the new department.

For example, 981 immigration information officers in the Immigration and Naturalization Service are currently competing for their jobs as part of the Justice Department's competitive sourcing plan. Styles said the INS would do well to continue this competition as it moves into the new department.

"I think it's sufficient for the agency to keep the ones going on that they have going on and it's enough that they're shouldering things as they transition to move from one place to another," she said.

Interagency Service Support Agreements (ISSAs) between Homeland Security agencies and their former host departments will also likely be exempt from competition during the reorganization, according to Styles. ISSAs are pacts in which agencies provide support services to one another.

"You'll have a lot of ISSAs that will probably need to be exempt for a little while until Homeland Security gets established," she said.

But both critics and supporters of competitive sourcing found fault with this strategy. Bobby Harnage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, condemned OMB for continuing any competitions during the reorganization process.

"It is telling that even as the new Department of Homeland Security is organizing itself to ensure the safety of the American people, that OMB will nevertheless still essentially force it to submit to the privatization quotas," he said.

Carl DeMaio, president of the Performance Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based think tank, said the administration should consider holding more job competitions during the reorganization because they could help streamline the department.

"I think as part of examining how to merge this stuff together you need to be looking at competition as a management tool," he said. "I don't think we should consider suspending it."

Many agencies moving into the department do not have large competitive sourcing programs. The Coast Guard needs to compete only 374 jobs to meet its competitive sourcing goal, and baggage screeners at the Transportation Security Administration-the vast majority of its workforce-are exempt from competition by law.

OMB intends for the Homeland Security Department to comply with each of the elements of the Bush management agenda, including competitive sourcing, in the long-term, Styles said. OMB included the Homeland Security Department in its latest stoplight rating of how agencies are complying with the management agenda, released Thursday. The new department received red lights on all five elements of the president's management agenda.

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