Defense: Troop mobilizations have not stopped job competitions

Mobilizing troops for the war in Iraq hasn't kept military installations from holding public-private job competitions on thousands of federal jobs, a Defense official said Monday.

The mobilization of U.S. troops has led to the cancellation of only one Defense job competition since the war on terrorism started, according to Annie Andrews, assistant director of the Pentagon's competitive sourcing and privatization office. With Defense's blessing, Army Fort Huachuca in Arizona scrapped a job competition involving its communication unit last year, she said.

All other competitions have continued, a testament to the military's ability to plan for a mobilization, according to Andrews. "Mobilizations [involve] surge-type work that would be handled at an installation on a regular basis," said Andrews. Surge requirements create extra work at a base.

In fiscal 2001 and 2002, Defense completed 330 competitions involving about 42,000 employees. The department intends to wrap up competitions involving 15,000 more employees this year, according to Defense figures.

In the months after Sept. 11, some observers thought the mobilization of U.S. troops might curtail Defense's ambitious job competition program, at least at bases affected by the call-up of reserves. Mobilizing for war can make it more difficult to hold job competitions, which require sustained attention from base commanders and can be stressful for workers who are competing to keep their jobs.

Mobilization also exempts Defense from Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76, the rulebook for public-private competitions. Defense has been exempt from A-76 since President Bush mobilized reserves in mid-September 2001, but the department has continued to follow the circular.

In March 2002, Pete Aldridge, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, issued a policy for handling competitions in a time of war or mobilization. The guidance allows installations involved in a mobilization to delay job competitions and petition to cancel them, although the Defense Department must approve all requests to halt competitions due to a mobilization.

To date, only Fort Huachuca has asked to cancel a competition, according to Andrews.

Defense plans to meet OMB's long-term goal of putting 50 percent of its commercial jobs-226,000 jobs-up for competition, although it may deviate from Circular A-76 to do so, Aldridge said in Senate testimony last week.

Defense will use a mix of normal job competitions and "alternatives to A-76" to compete 158,200 of these jobs, Aldridge told the Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support of the Senate Armed Services Committee. At the end of fiscal 2002, Defense had 282 competitions involving 30,129 positions underway, according to Defense figures.

The Army and Air Force both have endorsed competitive sourcing as a way to free up funds to finance new requirements created by the war on terrorism.

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