House restricts job competitions at Park Service, Defense

The House overwhelmingly passed legislation late Thursday that could stop two out of five public-private job competitions underway at the National Park Service.

By a 362 to 57 vote, the House passed an amendment from Reps. Doug Bereuter, R-Neb., and Allan Boyd, D-Fla., to the Interior Appropriations bill that would halt funding in 2004 for competitions at the Midwest Archeological Center in Lincoln, Neb., and the Southeast Archeological Center in Tallahassee, Fla. Originally, the Park Service had planned to make 46 employees in Lincoln and 43 employees in Florida compete for their jobs with private firms.

"I'm extremely happy that our congressman stood up for us," said Mark Lynot, manager of the Midwest Center.

If the Senate agrees to the measure in conference committee and President Bush signs it into law, it could stop job competitions involving almost a third of the employees-89 out of 277-that currently are under study at the Park Service. But both competitions could also be finished by the end of fiscal 2003, before the Bereuter-Boyd language would take effect, according to Donna Kalvels, the coordinator of the Park Service's competitive sourcing program.

"It is very likely they'll be complete since they've both been turned into streamlined [competitions]," she said. New federal job competition rules, contained in Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76, mandate that streamlined competitions be finished in 90 days, although agencies can get extensions.

In Lincoln, Lynot and other officials want to include only 25 seasonal positions as part of the streamlined competition, sparing 20 or so full-time employees from competition. One of the full-time employees that apparently could avoid competition is Douglas Scott, an architect who received Interior's Distinguished Service Award last September, shortly before the competition began.

Kalvels said local Park Service officials have the authority to limit the competition to seasonal workers. "It is their prerogative to do that," she said. Kalvels declined to comment specifically on the House vote, but said the Park Service would follow the direction of the president and Congress.

The Park Service has other competitions under way at its Denver Service Center, its National Capital Region, and at the Natchez Trace Trail in Mississippi, according to Kalvels.

Bereuter will work with colleagues in the Senate to add similar language to the Senate version of the Interior spending bill, which is currently silent on the matter, according to a spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, opponents of competitive sourcing at the Defense Department cheered Senate approval of a measure from Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., that would require Defense to let in-house employees reorganize into a "most efficient organization" in all public-private competitions involving 10 or more employees. Under OMB's Circular A-76, agencies are only required to let employees reorganize themselves in competitions with 65 or more employees, although they have the option to reorganize in smaller competitions as well.

The Kennedy measure, which is now part of the Senate-passed Defense appropriations bill, also would prohibit contractors from offering "less beneficial" health benefits to their employees as a tactic to underbid federal employee teams.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., spoke in support of the Kennedy measure. "I complained to the previous administration on this issue, I complain to the current administration on this issue, and we have simply seen no change in the policy with respect to A-76," he said. Chambliss also said that federal employees should have more opportunities to compete for work that has been contracted out.

"If A-76 is going to be fairly applied to the public sector, it ought to be applied to the private sector. That is simply not the way A-76 has worked over the years," he said.

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