Bush job competition target could be tall order for Defense, report says

The Defense Department could have difficulty meeting the Bush administration's long-term target for opening federal jobs to private sector competition, according to a new report from the General Accounting Office.

The Pentagon will have to devote substantial new resources, including funding, to its competitive sourcing program in order to achieve the administration's goal of competing at least one-half of its commercial positions-or 226,000 jobs-by 2008, GAO found.

While Defense has already met the administration's short-term goal of competing 15 percent of these jobs, or 71,000 jobs, the department could be hard-pressed to finish competitions on the remaining 155,000. Historically, the department has been unable to complete studies so quickly, according to the report.

"The goal requires studying far more positions-nearly double-than DoD has previously studied under a comparable time period," said the report (GAO-03-818).

GAO highlighted several factors that could complicate the Pentagon's efforts to meet the 50 percent target. First, the number of jobs Defense has put up for competition has declined in recent years. In fiscal 2001 and 2002, the department initiated competitions on 15,172 jobs-down from 35,665 jobs in fiscal 1999 alone. The Army, the largest military service, initiated competitions on just 1,324 jobs between 1999 and 2002.

"The number of positions planned for study by year for each component for fiscal years 2003-09 was not available, but it would seem to require much greater numbers of announcements per year than were made in recent years," the report said.

Other initiatives could require new funding. The Army and Air Force intend to shift large numbers of military personnel performing "commercial" work into warfighting positions as part of their competitive sourcing plans. Since civilian or contract employees must replace most of these personnel, the transfers will create new costs for the services, according to GAO.

In response to the report, Defense said it would devote adequate resources to its competitive sourcing program. "We will ensure that these plans are properly funded," said Philip Grone, principal assistant deputy secretary of Defense for installations and environment. On July 2, members of Defense's Business Initiative Council met to discuss plans for meeting the 50 percent target, which will be described in the fiscal 2005 budget.

Defense would likely meet the 50 percent target if the Army accelerates its plan to compete 154,910 civilian jobs through its "Third Wave" outsourcing initiative, as unveiled last fall. But since then, the service has faced repeated delays in its effort to move forward with the program. Army installations submitted scores of requests to exempt positions from the initiative, and Army headquarters made 24 broad exemption decisions in response. While the Army will not say how many civilian positions are now exempt from the initiative, it has determined that some "noncore" jobs will be off-limits for outsourcing, according to GAO.

Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, whose district includes four military bases, requested the report.

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