OPM tech specialists fend off private sector competitors

A team of technology workers at the Office of Personnel Management held on to their jobs in the agency's 15th public-private competition by agreeing to cut back on overtime, agency officials announced Thursday.

The 52 IT specialists, based in Macon, Ga., proposed a 40 percent cut in overtime expenses, said Ronald Flom, OPM's deputy associate director for contracting, facilities and administrative services, in the announcement. OPM expects to save $9.9 million during the next five years by going with the in-house team's plan. Of that, $900,000 will come from the overtime reductions.

Employees at the personnel agency have prevailed in 13 out of 15 public-private competitions held since the Bush administration introduced the competitive sourcing initiative. "The record of OPM keeping jobs in-house ... is excellent and confirms the fairness of the process," Flom said.

The employees, part of OPM's Technical Services Group, design, program, test and run human resource-related IT systems. They work on the personnel agency's Employee Express Web site, where federal employees at participating agencies can change their payroll and personnel information online, and USA Staffing, a software package that helps agencies with recruiting.

Their victory comes as OPM announced the second loss in a competition. Ten employees responsible for repairing and maintaining elevators, heating and cooling systems, and other agency property will see their jobs outsourced for a projected savings of $500,000 over five years, Flom said.

"The results of the building operations and customer service activity competition in no way reflect the quality of work of these employees," Flom said. "It simply is a matter of economics and the need to provide taxpayers with quality, lower-cost service."

OPM is initiating placement programs to help the 10 employees find other jobs. The agency will also seek permission to offer buyouts and voluntary early retirements, and any employees involuntarily separated will have the right of first refusal for job openings with the contractor assuming the work, said Michael Orenstein, an agency spokesman.

Competitive sourcing officials ran both contests under the Office of Management and Budget's rules for competitions involving fewer than 65 full-time jobs. These streamlined competitions allow officials to conduct market research to determine how the private sector stacks up against federal employee teams.

In the technology and building operations contests, OPM looked at General Services Administration supply schedules--catalogues of prenegotiated contracts available for use across government--to project the cost of outsourcing the work. Savings figures represent the difference between the in-house proposal and schedule prices.

The branch of the American Federation of Government Employees union representing the employees who will be laid off is still reviewing the maintenance contest results, said Carlos G. Brathwaite, president of AFGE Local 32. The union doesn't represent the IT specialists.

Agency officials told AFGE that the in-house team lost the maintenance contest because pay rates offered on GSA schedule contracts were lower, Brathwaite said. The union plans to review the rates, he said, adding that he was surprised how low they were.

Aside from possible problems with the pay scales used in the comparison, the competition process--announced on April 11--was "on the whole handled pretty fairly," Brathwaite said. Assuming that there are no problems with the pay numbers, AFGE will work to ensure that displaced maintenance employees not eligible for retirement will find other work, he said.

OPM still has to select a company to perform the maintenance work. Agency officials will solicit proposals and plan to award the contract in March 2006. "In the meantime, these employees will continue to perform the function," Orenstein said.

The personnel agency plans to conduct one other public-private job competition this year.

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