Energy workers win job competition; Forest Service workers lose

A team of financial services workers at the Energy Department triumphed in a public-private job competition involving 181 jobs, Energy Deputy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow announced Thursday.

The in-house team won by agreeing to eliminate 63 positions and restructure its operations. Accounting work done at 15 offices nationwide will move to centers in Germantown, Md., and Oak Ridge, Tenn. All told, Energy officials predict that the new accounting organization will save $31 million over five years.

Energy officials evaluated bids using new "best value" criteria included in Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76, which the Bush administration rewrote last year. The evaluation method, a favorite of federal contractors, gives less weight to cost and puts more emphasis on technical innovation.

The comparison method raised technical challenges for Energy officials. For example, contractors can include the resumes of key personnel in their proposals, but federal personnel rules prohibit in-house teams from submitting resumes. In a December interview, Dennis O'Brien, Energy's director of competitive sourcing, said the department found solutions. "One of our lessons learned is, you have to be very cognizant of the civilian personnel regulations and how they affect personnel," he said.

Energy expects that most workers displaced by the competition will find other positions in the department. "[Energy] anticipates few, if any, federal employee involuntary separations," the department said in a statement. Some of the eliminated positions are currently vacant.

The competition cost $2.2 million to conduct, according to an Energy official. The new financial services organization should be in place by Oct. 1, 2004. Energy is set to unveil a new accounting system at the same time.

While Energy workers successfully defended their jobs, a contractor defeated 80 Forest Service workers in a competition decided last week. Serco Management Services Inc., a New Jersey affiliate of the United Kingdom-based Serco Group PLC, won a $27 million contract to handle fleet maintenance for the Forest Service in California.

The competition affects 59 full-time Forest Service mechanics. Some may be able to work for Serco, while the Forest Service will retain others to help administer the contract, according to Doug Lee, director of acquisition management in the Forest Service's Pacific Southwest region. Layoffs also are possible, he said. "At least a few [employees] may have to seek other opportunities, which could be internal or external [to the Forest Service]."

Fleet maintenance was a part-time duty for the other 21 employees involved in the competition.

A branch of the National Federation of Federal Employees vowed to fight the decision. "We intend to protest the decision to award this work under the protest procedures outlined in the A-76 process," said William Dougan, president of NFFE's Forest Service council, in a statement.

Forest Service employees have fared well in competitions decided to date. Civil servants have retained 2,187 of 2,474 jobs put up for bid so far, according to agency figures.