Provision to slow job competitions at Forest Service moves ahead

Legislation that could delay public-private competitions at the Forest Service made progress in the Senate Thursday, even as House Republicans prepared to challenge a similar proposal to halt competitive sourcing at the agency and at the Interior Department next year.

The full Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation that would require the Forest Service to gain congressional approval before it could hold job competitions next year.

Under the measure, which is part of the Senate Interior appropriations bill, Congress would have to sign off on the Forest Service's competitive sourcing plan before the agency could continue competitions-or start new ones-in fiscal 2004. At the markup of the bill, Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said he assumed the measure "will become law."

The committee did not vote on a measure from Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., which would have transferred $3 million from the Forest Service to the National Park Service to protest how the Forest Service is paying for job competitions. The Forest Service has spent $10 million on competitive sourcing this year without seeking specific approval from congressional appropriators. To signal his disapproval of this funding technique, Dorgan introduced and then withdrew his amendment.

"I hope the message to the Forest Service and the Office of Management and Budget is clear: the entire Appropriations Committee should be angry at federal agencies that use this money in a cavalier way without seeking reprogramming requests that they are required to seek," he said.

Meanwhile, in the House, key Republican leaders prepared to fight a similar measure in the Interior appropriations bill when the bill goes to the House floor next week. House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., is planning to offer an amendment that would strike Section 335-which would halt funds for new job competitions at Interior and the Forest Service-from the bill, according to multiple sources.

"Tom Davis understands how critically important competitive sourcing is to providing the taxpayers with the most value," said Carl DeMaio, president of the Performance Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based think-tank. "Chairman Davis deserves credit for standing up."

But David Marin, a Davis spokesman, said negotiations were still ongoing and that the Congressman might not offer the amendment. If Davis does not move to strike Section 335, other members of the House Republican leadership are expected to introduce an amendment that would scrap the provision.

Congressional appropriators on both sides of the aisle have criticized the land management agencies for dipping into operational accounts to finance the Bush administration's competitive sourcing initiative. Agencies have had to draw on operational funds because the Bush administration has not requested specific funds to pay for competitive sourcing, which can require substantial training and contractor support.

But some agencies believe this funding method is appropriate, since competitive sourcing is intended to make operations more efficient. "It takes money to make sure you know whether you're efficient," said a competitive sourcing official at a civilian agency.

Appropriators contend agencies must file reprogramming requests with Congress before they can use operational funds in this way. Some civilian agencies are planning to include a separate line item for competitive sourcing in their fiscal 2005 budget requests, according to another official at a civilian agency.

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