Union workers decry outsourcing at Capitol rally

klunney@govexec.com

Federal union workers Tuesday called for public-private competition in government contracting at a rally on the steps of the Capitol organized by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

AFGE National President Bobby L. Harnage, flanked by members of Congress including Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md., and Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton, D-D.C., decried the outsourcing of federal work to private companies. Government employees should be allowed to compete with the private sector, he said.

"Vital public services should not be turned over to big corporations whose first priority is their bottom line, not the public interest," Harnage said. During the rally, he also stressed the need for agencies to track costs and purported savings resulting from contracting out. "This is about accountability," he said.

Rally participants chanted "Drain the SWAMP!" in response to Harnage. SWAMP-Stop Wasting America's Money on Privatization-is the union's campaign to place a moratorium on contracting out in the federal government. Many of the federal workers sported alligator masks and tails over their clothes.

Wynn announced his intention to introduce the Truthfulness, Responsibility, and Accountability in Contracting (TRAC) Act. The legislation would force public-private competition and require agencies to review and justify current outside contracts, among other provisions. "Federal employees will get to show they can do the job cheaper and better," he said.

Wynn also praised the efforts of the AFGE in advancing the cause, noting that the union was "the brains behind this legislation."

Del. Holmes-Norton said the Clinton administration has not proven that outsourcing leads to cost savings. "Two hundred years ago they built Washington, D.C. on a swamp, but today the swamp is on the Hill," Holmes quipped, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Charlotte Flowers, president of the local AFGE chapter at the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama argued that federal employees are generally more dedicated to their agency's mission and are not solely motivated by profit-making.

Speakers and participants at the event said federal employees want only the right to compete with the private sector for government projects, not an automatic guarantee of work.

In addition to Norton, 60 lawmakers have thrown their support behind the TRAC Act, including Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., and Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, who also spoke at the rally,

AFGE is the largest federal employee union, representing 600,000 federal and D.C. government workers. According to a spokesman for AFGE, many of the core agencies were represented at the rally. Agencies with the highest concentration of AFGE membership include the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, and the Social Security Administration.

The rally was part of AFGE's annual legislative conference.

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