Senate appropriators approve limit on Forest Service job competitions

The Forest Service would need congressional approval before it could hold public-private job competitions next year under legislation approved by a Senate appropriations subcommittee Wednesday.

The measure, approved by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies, chaired by Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., would require the Forest Service to vet its competitive sourcing plan with Congress before staging job competitions in fiscal 2004. The provision would apply to new and ongoing job competitions at the agency, potentially forcing the Forest Service to seek congressional approval before it could continue job competitions involving thousands of agency employees.

The subcommittee's move is the latest congressional attempt to rein in the Bush administration's drive to let private companies bid on federal jobs, and the first led by Senate appropriators.

If the Forest Service provides appropriators with a detailed competitive sourcing plan, competitions could resume, according to Burns spokeswoman Jennifer O'Shea. "We need to see numbers, we need to see plans before anything can happen," she said.

Burns' subcommittee was particularly alarmed by the cost of the Forest Service's competitive sourcing plan-estimated at $10 million-which was not specifically funded by Congress. "The committee is deeply concerned…at the administration's failure to either budget adequately for the cost of the initiative or describe such costs in budget documents," states the subcommittee's report on the measure. The full Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark up the Interior bill Thursday.

O'Shea said the measure was not intended to shut down competitive sourcing at the Forest Service, unlike a measure passed by the House Appropriations Committee, which would halt funds for new competitions at the Forest Service and most Interior agencies in fiscal 2004.

Some senators favor additional measures to slow down competitive sourcing at the Forest Service. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., plans to offer an amendment at the full committee markup Thursday that would cut $3 million in Forest Service funds to discourage competitive sourcing. "Taking $3 million out of the Forest Service budget, which is what they spent setting up an office of competitive sourcing, may get the attention of those in charge of this effort," he said at the subcommittee markup on Wednesday.

Thomas Mills, deputy director for business operations at the Forest Service, said the agency was refining its cost estimates for competitive sourcing in response to congressional concerns. He said the Forest Service would provide Congress with detailed budget information if the bill is passed and signed into law.

The Forest Service is planning to put about 2,000 agency jobs up for competition in 2004. The agency already has initiated competitions on 3,500 to 3,900 jobs, including a competition involving 1,200 information technology workers. The IT competition is not scheduled to finish until August 2004, so it would be affected by the Burns provision.

An advocate of competitive sourcing said Republican leadership must exert more control over lawmakers to prevent legislative challenges to the initiative. "The leadership must get its members in line to stop this attack on the President's management agenda," said Carl DeMaio, president of the Performance Institute, a think-tank based in Arlington, Va.

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