New rules open government
jobs to private competition
By LEIGH STROPE, AP Labor Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - About 850,000 government jobs will be opened to private companies under
new rules that encourage competition to replace federal workers who perform tasks such as
giving weather reports to private pilots, fixing computers and taking money and tickets at
Democrats and labor unions see the Bush administration changes as union-busting and
political favoritism, and they pointed to problems at NASA as a red flag.
The procurement rules are among many revisions the administration is undertaking that do
not require congressional approval. Officials are rewriting rules that determine which
workers are entitled to overtime pay.
They also are acting to allow religious groups that receive government funds to
discriminate in hiring based on religion.
Nearly half of the 1.8 million civilian government work force performs tasks that
duplicate work in the private sector, the administration says. President Bush wants to let
companies bid to provide that work, with at least 15 percent opened to competition by Oct.
The regulations issued Thursday "will open much wider the doors to those businesses
and their workers who can seek to provide to the American taxpayer a better value at a
better price," said Mitch Daniels, outgoing
director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Officials have identified examples of work being performed by government employees that
they said probably could be done better and more cheaply by private businesses.
For example, 540 Navy workers make eyeglasses. In the Parks Service, rangers are being
used to take money and tickets at the front gates.
Daniels could not say how many government jobs might be lost. He noted that agencies are
allowed to compete with private companies for the work.
"We are indifferent as to who wins the competition," he said. "It need not
result in any changes in federal employment. We'll just have to see what a more wide-open
The government's use of private contractors, however, is under examination at the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration. A board investigating the explosion of the space
shuttle Columbia is looking at whether NASA's heavy reliance on private contractors
contributed to short cuts in maintenance inspections.
Bobby L. Harnage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the
rule changes "are merely an act to give lucrative government work to contractors
without any accountability to the taxpayer."
Democrats have criticized the administration for lucrative contracts to reconstruct Iraq
that have been awarded, with limited competition, to companies with ties to Vice President
Dick Cheney and other prominent
Current rules allow for public-private competition. But the regulations, which have not
been significantly revised since 1983, are so cumbersome that private companies are often
reluctant to seek government contracts, officials said.
The changes shortened the contract bidding process from as long as four years to one year,
with many to be completed in just 30 days. Government studies show that savings of as much
as a third can result from competition.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., an ally of organized labor, said such changes should be
made by Congress.
"Reasonable steps to improve the efficiency of federal agencies make sense, but
blanket privatization does not," he said. "We can't afford to hand over key
federal responsibilities to companies with the best lobbyists or
the lowest bids."
The Energy Department is among the agencies that has already opened jobs to private
companies. Bidding is under way for such jobs as graphics design, computer technicians and
financial services personnel.
At the Federal Aviation Administration, some 2,700 flight services employees could lose
their jobs in a bid process occurring now. Those federal workers provide weather reports
to private pilots.
Copyright 2003 The Beaufort Gazette