Labor Department halts outsourcing of administrative jobs

Language in recent spending measure forces retreat on decision to give work performed by 328 employees to a contractor.

The Labor Department announced last week that it has canceled a public-private competition for 328 administrative support positions that had been decided in favor of a contractor.

Last Tuesday's cancellation came in response to the enactment of an emergency supplemental spending bill (H.R. 2206) with language declaring all workers within Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration exempt from public-private competition, a department spokeswoman said. More than 20 percent of the workers affected worked at the mine safety agency.

According to rules governing public-private competitions, if the department wants to put the non-MSHA jobs up for bid, it will have to start a new competition. As of now, the agency has no plans to do so, the spokeswoman said.

GAP Solutions Inc. of Reston, Va., won the original competition in May, but had yet to sign a contract.

Union leaders who have fought the competition hailed the department's move as a victory. Eleanor Lauderdale, executive vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees chapter that represents the affected employees, said the cancellation was partly prompted by union opposition.

"We have been fighting this from the beginning," Lauderdale said. The union filed a grievance June 1 on the grounds that the competition targeted minority and older women, and organized a rally June 6 to protest the competition.

"Many times, these contractors will hire back federal workers to do the same jobs they did before," Lauderdale said. "But [the contractor] will offer a lower salary and fewer health and retirement benefits."

According to Lauderdale, the affected positions entailed a wide array of tasks not easily classifiable as administrative support jobs. "A lot of them were secretaries, but there were also jobs like 'EEO assistant' that were being outsourced," she said. Lauderdale said that although affected employees had been offered early retirement, none had accepted.

OMB tracks the status of agency competitions in annual competitive sourcing reports. The fiscal 2006 report showed that the Labor Department announced six competitions that year, representing the third-highest number out of the major agencies reviewed, behind the Defense Department (35) and NASA (26).

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