Census employees win job competition; other feds lose

After a 20-month study, a team of 225 administrative employees at Census Bureau headquarters in Suitland, Md., has defeated private contractors in a public-private job competition, the agency said Monday.

The in-house team won by underbidding its private sector competitors, according to William Russell, chief of the acquisition branch at the Census Bureau. If the decision withstands appeal, the workers, who are at the GS-4 and GS-5 levels, should keep their jobs.

"The employees are feeling relief today because they still have their jobs," said Avis Buchanan, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 2782, which represents some of the workers. "They wanted to stay here."

The Census Bureau competition is one of several full-size competitive sourcing studies decided in recent days. On Friday, the Social Security Administration announced that a team of 36 information technology employees had won SSA's first job competition held to comply with the Bush administration's competitive sourcing initiative. The IT workers test new software used to automate operations at the agency.

"I have said all along that SSA's employees are among the best not only in the federal government, but as compared to the private sector as well," SSA Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart said in a statement. The employees' bid was one-third cheaper than proposals received from the private sector, according to Martha McNish, an agency spokeswoman.

A contractor triumphed in the first competition at the Treasury Department's Bureau of Engraving and Printing. STG Industries Inc., a human resources consulting firm based in Alexandria, Va., won a study involving 17 personnel support workers in Washington and Fort Worth, Texas. The firm's bid was lower by $887,785, said Robert Knauer, A-76 contractor officer at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, in a June 27 memorandum announcing the decision. "In the true sense of competition, the government wins through achieving savings," he said.

At the Department of Veterans Affairs, a competition involving 125 property management jobs is still under appeal, although VA officials plan to issue a final ruling later this summer, according to spokesman Terry Jemison. Ocwen Federal Bank, a West Palm Beach, Fla.-based financial services firm, prevailed in the competition, which was decided Feb. 14. The American Federation of Government Employees appealed on behalf of the workers, but its appeal was denied, said Wiley Pearson, a policy analyst with the union.

Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., also was critical of the VA's decision in the competition, warning that Ocwen could perform the work overseas, perhaps in India, using low-paid foreign workers. But Ocwen will keep the work in the U.S., wrote bank president Ronald Faris in a March 6 letter to Evans.

"As expressly stated in Ocwen's proposal to the VA, Ocwen intends to perform the services required by the VA from its headquarters in West Palm Beach, Fla. and from its National Servicing Center in Orlando, Fla." said Faris.

These agencies have additional competitions under way. The SSA is competing its IT help desk function, which involves 68 federal jobs and 47 contractor positions, and its facilities management function, currently performed by 94 civil servants. At the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, 33 machine shop workers are competing for their jobs in a full A-76 competition.

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