Curb on Justice job competitions draws veto threat

Legislation that would protect hundreds of Justice Department employees from possible outsourcing earned a veto threat from the White House this week.

The Bush administration threatened to veto the Senate version of the fiscal 2004 Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill over a provision that would prevent public-private job competitions at the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), a small operation that distributes billions of dollars in grants to state and local governments.

"The administration seeks to improve the performance of governmental activities based on the commonsense principle of competition," administration officials wrote in an Office of Management and Budget policy statement. "Now is the wrong time to short-circuit implementation of this principle, especially since numerous agencies are starting to make real progress."

All OJP employees who monitor grants and programs and handle statistics would be off-limits for competition under the provision. These workers make up the vast majority of employees in the 700-person office.

Stu Smith, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2830 at OJP, blasted the Bush administration for the veto threat. "Imagine, holding up an appropriations measure with so many important provisions just to stick it to some employees who are serving their country in the fight against street crime and domestic terrorism," he said.

The Senate was unable to vote on the Commerce-Justice-State bill Monday or Tuesday, so the bill will be added to a fiscal 2004 omnibus appropriations measure that is in the works. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the $38.4 billion bill, including the OJP measure, on Sept. 4.

The Justice office has not yet announced any public-private competitions. "There really is nothing new of substance to report on the process itself at this point; we are just about where we were at this time last month," Deborah Daniels, the assistant attorney general in charge of OJP, told employees in a Nov. 7 e-mail obtained by Government Executive.

The Justice Department considers 3,400 of its 132,100 employees, or 3 percent of all workers, to be eligible for competition, according to a September report from the Office of Management and Budget.

OJP did not respond to a request for comment on its competitive sourcing program.

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