Feds win all job competitions at Health and Human Services agency

Federal employees have won all 17 public-private job competitions held at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services this year, keeping 309 civil servants on the federal payroll.

Accountants, information technology specialists and project managers are among the CMS employees who successfully defended their jobs, according to a Sept. 12 e-mail to agency employees from Leslie Norwalk, the agency's acting deputy administrator and chief operating officer, which was obtained by Government Executive. The agency used the "streamlined" competition method, which compares the cost of the in-house team with the going rate in the private sector, for all 17 studies.

CMS had no estimate of savings generated by these competitions, according to a spokesman. "It's more about improving efficiencies," he said.

The agency also conducted two direct conversions, where federal jobs are shifted to contractors without public-private competition. All 120 civil servants affected by these direct conversions were transferred to other positions in the agency, Norwalk said.

Federal employees have fared well recently in "streamlined" competitions at other agencies, winning many small studies at the Agriculture and Interior departments. At the Defense Department, in-house teams won 49 of 50-or 98 percent-of all streamlined competitions held between 1997 and 2001.

The perfect record of CMS employees in job competitions raised eyebrows with one contractor observer. "Certainly 17 out of 17 [competitions] is an extraordinary record, and over 90 percent at the Defense Department is an extraordinary record," said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, an Arlington, Va.-based contractor association. "I'm concerned that too often an agency's preference is for work to stay in-house, and they go out and justify it through the streamlined method."

In streamlined competitions, agencies can use market research to determine what it would cost a contractor to perform a given function, instead of soliciting bids from private firms. Soloway said agencies should be required to provide more documentation of their market research, so it is clear how they arrived at the decision to keep work in-house or outsource. Current rules, developed by the Office of Management and Budget in its May revisions to Circular A-76, require only minimal documentation, he said.

"If you look at the streamlined form, there is room for like two sentences [of documentation]," he said. "Well I think we ought to know more about what market research was done."

In her e-mail, Norwalk said CMS exceeded its competitive sourcing goal of competing 315 jobs in fiscal 2003, ultimately subjecting 429 positions to study. "I want to thank everyone who participated in the studies for their hard work in defining and examining their functions in support of the president's initiative," she told employees. Norwalk said the agency was still developing its competitive sourcing plan for fiscal 2004.

Bush officials publicly renounced governmentwide numerical targets for competitive sourcing in late July.

CMS' two direct conversions went to Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin, to design a data center, and to California Medical Review Inc., a San-Francisco-based company that will provide management services to the agency.

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