Bush Plan To Contract Federal Jobs Falls Short

Keeping Most Jobs
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 25, 2008

Joseph Wassmann thought he had a secure position producing videos for the U.S. Military Academy, but not long ago he found his job on the line because of a Bush administration plan to inject more efficiency into the federal bureaucracy.

Wassmann, 40, was among a group of information management employees at West Point who had to prove that they could do their jobs better and more cheaply than a private contractor. If they could not, they were told, the work would be outsourced. It was all part of President Bush's government-wide plan to reduce costs by inviting contractors to bid on about 425,000 federal jobs that could be considered "commercial" in nature.

The West Point competition dragged on for more than two years. In the end, Wassmann and most of his co-workers won, but only by agreeing to downsize from 119 employees to 88. And the mood has never been worse, he said.

"Tensions are at an all-time high," he said. "We have to cut ourselves to the bone to win these bids. . . . And morale is just destroyed afterward."

The public-private face-off at West Point illustrates just what Bush envisioned when he proposed the "competitive sourcing" initiative in 2001 as part of his management agenda. It turned on a simple idea: Force federal employees to compete for their jobs against private contractors and costs will decrease, even if the work ultimately stays in-house.

But as Bush's presidency winds down, the program's critics say it has had disappointing results and shaken morale among the federal government's 1.8 million civil servants.

Private contractors have grown increasingly reluctant to participate in the competitions, which federal employees have won 83 percent of the time.

The program fell short of the president's goals in scope and in cost savings. Between 2003 and 2006, agencies completed competitions for fewer than 50,000 jobs, a fraction of what Bush envisioned.

Moreover, the Government Accountability Office found that the administration has overstated the savings from some competitions by undercounting the costs of running them. Collectively, they cost $225 million, or about $4,800 per job, according to White House figures.

"The competitive sourcing initiative did little to improve management, produced a ton of worthless paper, demoralized thousands of workers and cost a bundle, all to prove that federal employees are pretty good after all," said Paul C. Light, a professor of government at New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

"From a legacy perspective for the president, I think this will be seen as a costly failure on his part," said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which represents 150,000 employees in 31 agencies. "They have not made any progress on what their stated goal was, and that's a good thing. It has been just an endless fight to slow them down and to derail them."

Bush officials acknowledge that they had hoped to put many more jobs up for competition -- as varied as janitorial services and computer management. Even so, they say, the competitions completed thus far have generated realized and projected savings of more than $7 billion.

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