Senators seek to protect Justice employees from competition

In the latest congressional challenge to President Bush's drive to open up more government work to competition from the private sector, Senate appropriators are trying to protect hundreds of Justice Department employees from possible outsourcing.

Senators have added language to the spending bill for the Commerce, Justice and State departments that would limit job competitions at Justice's Office of Justice Programs (OJP), which distributes almost $4 billion in grants to state and local governments. Employees who monitor grants and programs and handle statistics would be off-limits for competition under the measure, which is section 108 in the spending bill, S. 1585.

"The committee didn't agree with the administration's plan for competitive sourcing with OJP, specifically the notion that contractors could provide grants better than government workers," said Tim Boulay, a spokesman for the Senate Appropriations Committee. The committee approved the $38.4 billion bill on Sept. 4.

Stu Smith, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2830 at OJP, said the provision would protect almost all workers in the 700-person office from competitive sourcing. "Ninety-five percent of the people in this agency are covered by that language," he said.

The office has not begun any job competitions, but Deborah Daniels, the assistant attorney general for OJP, has told employees that the office planned to launch its competitive sourcing effort this fall. The office put competitive sourcing on hold from April to June while it conducted an activity-based costing study to determine the costs associated with OJP functions. But the study failed to yield enough data for use in job competitions, Daniels told employees in an Aug. 27 e-mail obtained by Government Executive.

"The [activity-based costing] survey was voluntary, and, simply put, we didn't have enough people volunteer to give us complete and usable information," she wrote. "Although this is quite disappointing, we must move forward."

Smith hailed the Senate provision as validation of his view that federal employees should perform grant management and oversight work. "We have great concerns about the constitutionality of the executive branch delegating away its authority to private firms," he said.

The Senate bill also requires OJP to notify Congress 15 days before it outsources any federal jobs.

Neither OJP nor the Office of Management and Budget responded to requests for comment on the Senate provision.

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