Feds win job competitions at Park Service, Agriculture Department

Federal employees have won several small public-private job competitions in land management agencies, including a competition at a National Park Service office that had run into opposition on Capitol Hill.

A team of 45 archeologists at the Southeastern Archeological Center in Tallahassee, Fla., defeated private contractors earlier this month, according to Park Service officials. The in-house team reorganized itself into a "most efficient organization," eliminating 17 seasonal jobs and trimming $850,000 in annual personnel costs, according to Donna Kalvels, coordinator of the Park Service's competitive sourcing program.

"Not one permanent employee lost their job, and the competition will save $4.2 million over the next five years," Kalvels said Thursday.

Last month, the House voted overwhelmingly to cut off funds for job competitions at the Southeastern Center and at the Midwest Archeological Center in Lincoln, Neb., where the competition still is ongoing. The funding freeze would not take effect until fiscal 2004, meaning it would not apply to competitions finished during this fiscal year.

But John Ehrenhard, director of the Southeastern Center, said the legislation is still needed to protect other Park Service archeologists from the Bush administration's competitive sourcing push. "Even though we won our competition, I'd like to see some [legislation] saying that no more money could be put toward . . . competitive sourcing," he said. "It's just another layer of protection."

Ehrenhard added that four employees left the center during the competition because they didn't want to risk losing their jobs. "Most were in their late 20s and early 30s, and they were looking forward to having a career in the National Park Service, and they felt they were denied that," he said.

Federal workers have prevailed in other small competitions decided recently. In the Forest Service, civil servants won competitions at six job corps centers across the country, according to Thomas Mills, the agency's deputy director for business operations. The Forest Service operates 18 job corps centers as part of a job-training program for young adults, which dates back to the New Deal programs of the 1930s. Employees at every center-940 workers in all-are now competing for their jobs.

So far, roughly 300 civil servants at job corps centers in Anaconda and Darby, Mont.; Franklin, N.C., Estacada, Ore.; and Pine Knot and Mariba, Ky., have won their competitions. At each center, the Forest Service is using the "streamlined" competition method, which compares the cost of the in-house team with the going rate in the private sector. The agency received a waiver from the Office of Management and Budget that allows it to give incumbent workers a 10 percent cost advantage in the competitions, according to Mills. The cost advantage is prohibited under the revised OMB Circular A-76, issued in late May.

Federal workers have also fared well in several streamlined competitions held by the Agriculture Department's Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). In Columbus, Ohio, NRCS workers won three competitions involving mail, clerical and soil-mapping work because procurement officials did not receive valid private sector offers, according to Michelle Lohstroh, state administrative officer with NRCS. Seven and one-half full-time equivalent positions (FTEs) were involved in these competitions.

In Annapolis, Md., four NRCS employees triumphed in a competition, according to Debra Hepburn, a contracting specialist with the agency. "We have a pretty small office out here in Annapolis," she said.

Competitions involving a single NRCS employee in Auburn, Ala., and Lake City, Fla., respectively, also went to federal employees. In Lake City, officials put a vacant position up for competition, to minimize the possible impact on workers, according to Lynn Merrill, an NRCS contract specialist.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, four soil-mapping specialists edged out companies in a competition for their jobs, and in Oklahoma, 17 soil conservation technicians successfully defended their jobs, according to Luann Lillie, an NRCS contracting officer in Stillwater, Okla. And in California, in-house workers triumphed in competitions involving 12 and one-half FTEs, according to Ray Miller, a contract specialist in Davis, Calif.

The NRCS is competing roughly 800 soil conservation technician positions on a state-by-state basis, according to Patty Brown, competitive sourcing coordinator with the agency. These technicians help farmers and ranchers apply conservation techniques to their land, she said in an interview last month.

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