Agencies make few changes to outsourcing lists

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Only three agencies have announced changes to their lists of federal jobs that could be outsourced under the Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act, leaving the total list of almost 900,000 jobs nearly unchanged.

Since October, 115 federal agencies have released lists of jobs that could be performed in the private sector. Almost 900,000 of the 1.8 million positions in the federal government are included on the lists. Agencies are required to develop plans for putting some of those jobs up for public-private competition, which can lead to jobs being contracted out.

Under the FAIR Act, contractors, unions and employees can challenge the lists if they think jobs should have been, or should not have been, included. Contractors have challenged the designation of thousands of jobs that agencies say are "inherently governmental" and therefore are exempt from outsourcing. Unions have challenged jobs that agencies said could be contracted out.

The Health and Human Services Department, the Office of Personnel Management and the Agriculture Department have announced changes to their FAIR Act lists. The appeals against HHS and OPM resulted in jobs being removed from the outsourcing lists, while more jobs have been added to the Agriculture Department's list.

At HHS, 31 jobs at the department's Program Support Center were re-classified as "inherently governmental" after a challenge. OPM re-classified eight positions as "inherently governmental" after an appeal by the American Federation of Government Employees.

Agriculture added 41 mostly information technology support positions to its list of jobs that could be outsourced.

Deidre Lee, acting deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said agencies are using the FAIR Act process to undertake analyses of their workforces to decide what work should be performed in-house and what should be outsourced.

"There's some good news about the FAIR Act," Lee said.

But some contractors are less enthused about FAIR Act results. The Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors, a group representing cartographers, challenged the designation of thousands of positions, contending that more cartographer positions should be included on the lists.

The association was successful in only one challenge. The Census Bureau said it will announce later this year that 60 cartographers' jobs will be added to its list.

John M. Palatiello, executive director of the association, said the FAIR Act has been frustrating on several levels.

"We find out that 1 million employees are involved in commercial activities," Palatiello said. "That's extraordinary, given that going back to a Bureau of the Budget bulletin in 1955, it has been the policy of the government not to be engaged in commercial activities."

In addition, agencies said a majority of the jobs on the FAIR Act lists will not be contracted out, leaving too many jobs "untouchable" to the private sector, Palatiello said.

"That was never in the law. It's either commercial or inherently govermental," Palatiello said. "OMB has far overstepped its legislative authority by allowing agencies to classify over 600,000 positions as commercial that the agencies also say are out of bounds."

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