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A Challenge to Esprit at Army Corps

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By Stephen Barr
Thursday, April 26, 2007

It is no longer business as usual in the government, as a recent job competition at the Army Corps of Engineers shows.

When complete, the corps will have dramatically cut its technology workforce, will be operating in a partnership with giant defense contractor Lockheed Martin and will be striving to produce up to $1 billion in savings over six years.

Such job competitions, known as competitive sourcing, or A-76 in federal budget offices, have been pushed by the Bush administration as a way to determine whether certain types of work can be done at lower cost. The practice has been in use for decades, but the administration's effort to increase the number and types of job competitions has roiled large parts of the federal workforce.

Most job competitions take time and involve numerous budget and legal considerations, as was the case at the corps.

The agency handles various engineering projects, from construction on Army and Air Force bases to flood control along rivers. It has about 35,000 employees across the nation, working from 65 offices, labs and centers.

For years, each major office has had its own technology staff, buying and installing computers, keeping networks running and helping employees with desktop problems. Across the country, about 1,300 federal employees and 1,500 contract workers provided the technology services.

But that staffing model was challenged in June 2004, when the corps launched a job competition and put the work up for bid.

Last week, an in-house team of employees was declared the winner, beating back a bid from Northrop Grumman, officials announced. If Northrop Grumman had won, it would have been in charge of the technology and probably would have offered jobs to some of the federal employees.

Winning, however, required the in-house team to cut costs and shed jobs. The new workforce will consist of about 520 government employees and 350 contract workers -- an overall reduction of more than half, Ray Navidi, the strategic sourcing manager for the corps, said.

The winners will get a year to phase in their operations in a new organization called ACE-IT (short for Army Corps of Engineers Information Technology). They were awarded a five-year contract, with possible extensions of up to three years. The contract is worth about $500 million, although calculations are not final.

The dramatic reduction in technology employees at the corps, Navidi said, has been made possible by the in-house team's decision to centralize and standardize operations. ACE-IT will be headquartered in Vicksburg, Miss., where the corps has about 3,000 employees.

The centralized operation will do away with duplicate or redundant jobs that were spread across field offices. For example, instead of "some 60 odd help desks, there will be only one help desk handling things," Navidi said.

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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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