The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided to outsource nearly five percent of its workforce.
to Contract Out Hundreds of Staff Positions
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided to outsource nearly five percent of its workforce according to agency memos released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national organization of government employees in natural resources agencies.
Employees in the areas of information technology, financial services, and administrative support will be outsourced under the newly approved EPA plan. For the first time, enforcement positions will be offered for bid to private companies.
The agencys enforcement laboratory, called the National Enforcement Investigations Center, could lose as many as 78 specialists to corporate labs, according to EPA employees contacting PEER. This center is the nations leading forensic lab for environmental measurement and pollution compliance testing.
As described in a Decision Paper signed by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson on September 22, the agency has struggled over the past few years to meet its assigned goal of putting 850 full time equivalent positions - five percent of its total - out to bid for possible replacement by private providers by 2008.
This latest plan increases four-fold the number of employees potentially outsourced from the agencys last published plan in 2004.
The Decision Paper describes a Competitive Sourcing Council under the chairmanship of the Assistant Administrator for Administration and Resources Management Luis Luna.
Luna is responsible for the agency's hiring and personnel policies affecting 18,000 federal employees nationwide, management, a $1.2 billion program, and the administration of EPA's grants totaling $4 billion annually.
The Council selected functions for competitive sourcing thought to be "the most commercial in nature," and directed all offices and regions to participate in the exercise.
EPA employees contacting PEER expressed concern that the new outsourcing targets will affect enforcement and contractor oversight.
In the financial area, the EPA plans to outsource 25 full time positions. These financial analysts now review reports and invoices from the billions of dollars in research grants, toxic cleanup projects and other contracts administered by EPA.
Both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the agencys own Inspector General have issued numerous critical reports about the agencys insufficient oversight of its current contracts.
EPAs outsourcing plan may result in one set of contractors overseeing the work of another set of contractors.
The Decision Paper states that 325 full time positions in information technology and 450 administrative support positions will be contracted out. The paper acknowledges that this shift will "heavily impact minority employees and employees who might lack the skills to be mobile and be placed in other positions around the agency."
Following the June Council meeting, EPAs unions were provided the opportunity to review and comment on the short list of functions. A considerable number of written comments were submitted.
On July 6, the heads of EPAs five unions, along with representatives from the national organizations of NTEU and AFGE, met with Luna, the Decision Paper states.
Union concerns covered three categories: philosophical disagreement with the competitive sourcing initiative, disagreement with the agencys interpretation of inherently governmental, and concerns about how the initiative would hurt the fabric of EPAs workforce and adversely impact its ability to remain flexible and maintain public trust.
There were many references to the criticism the agency received in the late 1980s and early 1990s about being too dependent on contractors and having contracted out inherently governmental work.
But the Decision Paper states, "While the union discussions were healthy and served to emphasize the importance of managing the competitions carefully to protect the rights and well being of EPA employees, they did not provide a reason for altering the recommendations of the Council."
The Council's outsourcing recommendations were adopted on September 22.
Agencies are graded by the Presidents Office of Management and Budget on the percentage of their workforces that are made available for contractor competition.
Read the Decision Paper on Competitive Sourcing at: http://www.peer.org/docs/epa/05_3_10_competitive_sourcing.pdf