Park Service may cut hiring, services to pay for outsourcing studies

The National Park Service may have to cut its seasonal workforce and rein in some visitor services to pay for public-private job competitions required by the Bush administration, according to National Park Service Director Fran Mainella.

The high cost of holding job competitions, which require extensive support from outside consultants, could force the cash-strapped agency to curtail services unless it finds new funds, Mainella said in an internal April 4 memorandum to Lynn Scarlett, assistant secretary for policy, management and budget at the Interior Department.

The Park Service is already short on funds because it must dip into its operating budget to help pay for the 4.1 percent pay raise that federal employees will receive this year. Adding in the cost of job competitions-which will cost the Park Service $2.5 million to $3 million in consultant fees alone-could force cuts, according to Mainella.

"The costs are too significant to be covered by the affected parks as some in the [Interior] Department have suggested," she wrote. "With the absorption of over 60 percent of the pay cost increase in fiscal 2003 and another 50 percent planned for fiscal 2004, covering these costs would have serious consequences for visitor services and seasonal operations."

In fiscal year 2004, the Park Service is planning to compete 808 jobs through full job competitions, while another 900 agency jobs are directly converted-or outsourced-to private companies. Scott Cameron, Interior's deputy assistant secretary for performance and management, cautioned that this plan is not final and could change.

The watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) obtained the memorandum and shared it with the news media. Jeff Ruch, PEER's executive director, said the document shows how agencies must cut services to pay for the competitive sourcing initiative.

"The memo is a plea to the administration to come clean and disclose the real consequences of adherence to these arbitrary quotas and deadlines," said Ruch.

But the Park Service can find funds for competitive sourcing by tapping into other budget accounts, said David Barna, the agency's director of public affairs. This could delay a construction project or put off repairs, but it would not require layoffs of full-time employees.

"What you're seeing [in the memorandum] is the director saying our operating budget is getting tight and she's making a case for asking permission to tap into these other sources," said Barna. Tapping other budget accounts would require approval from the Interior Department and Congress, he said.

Interior's Cameron would not grant this approval, saying the issue was still under review, but pledged to find an "intelligent way" to pay for the Park Service's competitive sourcing program.

"We are working very hard over here to come up with the best deal for the taxpayer and the fairest deal for our employees," said Cameron. Officials at the Office of Management and Budget have previously said they will work with agencies to find funds for competitive sourcing.

Even if the Park Service finds funds for competitive sourcing, the agency's budget crunch will still affect seasonal hiring, said Barna. "We usually hire 6,000 to 8,000 seasonal employees," he said. "It's not going to be that number this year."

Mainella also raised concerns that competitive sourcing would have a disproportionate effect on minority groups at the department, and could set back efforts to improve diversity in the Park Service. "Eighty-nine percent of the FTE proposed for study in the Washington, D.C. area may affect the diversity of our workforce," she wrote. "This potential impact upon this workforce concerns us."

Cameron said Interior is committed to ensuring that competitive sourcing does not harm diversity at the department, noting the department has picked a mix of white and blue- collar occupations to face competition. Interior will also encourage minority-owned businesses to bid on work at the department.

"Where we do find ourselves in situations where we are doing studies that involve a significant number of minority employees we are going to make a special effort to make sure that the prospective bidding community includes small minority-owned, women- owned businesses," he said.

Other agencies-including the Transportation and Veterans Affairs departments-have also expressed concern that competitive sourcing may disproportionately affect federal employees from minority groups.

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