Democrats say job competitions could hurt diversity at Park Service

A White House program to put federal jobs up for competition with private contractors could hurt workplace diversity at the National Park Service, a group of House Democrats said Friday.

The Democrats, led by Reps. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Steny Hoyer, D-Md., will ask the Office of Management and Budget to review Park Service plans to comply with the president's competitive sourcing initiative, which aims to put 425,000 federal jobs up for public-private competition. They are rounding up signatories to a letter to Joshua Bolten, President Bush's nominee to be OMB director, asking for closer scrutiny of the agency's competitive sourcing plan.

The National Park Service plans to force 1,708 agency employees to face job competitions in fiscal 2004. Officials have raised concerns inside the agency that these competitions could disproportionately affect minority groups. In an April 4 internal memorandum to Interior officials, National Park Service Director Fran Mainella said job competitions in the Washington and San Francisco areas "may affect the diversity of our workforce."

This statement alarmed the Democrats. "The Mainella memorandum raises profound concerns that fulfillment of the privatization quota will threaten the hard-won diversity of the NPS workforce," wrote Udall and Hoyer in a draft version of their letter to Bolten. Democratic representatives Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas, and Elijah Cummings, D-Md. have also signed the Bolten letter.

The Park Service has started work toward its goal of reviewing the 1,708 jobs for possible outsourcing, and some of its actions may not be reversible. For example, the agency already has finished direct conversions on 900 of these jobs, according to Donna Kalvels, the Park Service's competitive sourcing coordinator. Under direct conversions, which are banned under the new version of OMB Circular A-76, the rulebook for job competitions, civil servants cannot compete for their jobs before they are outsourced to private firms.

The Park Service finished its direct conversions before the new circular was released, said Kalvels. "The 900 that we were counting have already been done," she said Wednesday. The Park Service is still planning to hold job competitions on the remaining 808 jobs.

Udall and Hoyer plan to send their letter to OMB next week, according to Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Elbert. The Office of Management and Budget did not respond to requests for comment.

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