The Federal Aviation Administration announced yesterday that it had awarded a 10-year, $1.9 billion contract to Bethesda defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. to provide general aviation flight services now performed by about 2,500 FAA employees.
The competition between the FAA employees and four outside bidders was the largest ever conducted at a non-defense agency. The job competition was carried out under President Bush's "competitive sourcing" initiative, which urges federal agencies to determine whether the government's commercial activities can be outsourced and save money.
Although FAA officials signaled last month that some employees might be lost their jobs, the announcement was a surprise. Federal employees across government have been successful in fending off outside bidders, winning about 90 percent of the job competitions, according to fiscal 2003 and 2004 data compiled by the Bush administration.
Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Wendy Owen said the company will offer jobs to all of the displaced FAA employees, with no loss in salary and with comparable benefits. The company will upgrade computers and other technology at flight- service stations and reduce their number from 58 to 20 over the next two years, Owen said.
The FAA, in a prepared statement, said the contract would save $2.2 billion over the next 10 years. It said some employees might be offered jobs with the agency as an alternative.
Bush's directive to study federal jobs to see what government work can be contracted out has roiled the civil service. Federal employees and some members of Congress are skeptical that projected savings can be obtained. The White House's Office of Management and Budget has pledged to step up efforts to ensure that savings are tracked and justified.
Kate Breen, president of the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists, called the FAA decision "very bad for employees. . . . They are taking older, experienced employees and showing them the door." The Wheaton-based union represents about 2,100 of the affected employees.
The winning bid affects FAA flight-service specialists who work in the contiguous 48 states, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. They provide pilots with weather briefings and with flight plans. They also assist in search-and-rescue operations. Most of their services are provided to private and corporate pilots but not to the major airlines.
FAA spokesman Greg Martin said the flight-service stations will shift to Lockheed Martin in October. The company will begin an incremental consolidation in April 2006, ending in March 2007, he said.
During that time, about half of the FAA employees will become eligible to retire, he said. The FAA also expects to offer jobs in its air traffic control division to some of the displaced workers. About 400 have been certified as controllers, and the FAA has waived its current age limit for new controllers -- 31 -- so the flight service specialists may apply for jobs.
The FAA began soliciting bids in December 2003 after a review in 2002. The bidders were Lockheed Martin; the FAA, which partnered with Harris Corp. on behalf of the employees; Raytheon Co.; Computer Sciences Corp., and Northrop Grumman Corp.
Last month, the OMB announced that federal agencies completed 217 job competitions in fiscal 2004. The competitions are projected to save about $1.4 billion over three to five years, OMB said.