Government Union Battles West Point Over Privatization of 300 Jobs

By Joe Davidson
Friday, April 17, 2009

The American Federation of Government Employees is battling the U.S. Military Academy at West Point over an Army decision to award 300 public works jobs to outside contractors.

The union said the West Point plan "was plagued with problems from the beginning." The union charged that the Army used a contracting method that allowed the private company to submit a more open-ended estimate than federal employees who bid for the same work.

The decision to award the work to outsiders was the result of a process known as an A-76 study. Such studies really are competitions between federal employees and outside contractors for government work.

The Army is confident the contracts were awarded properly. "Every effort was made to conduct a fair and equal public-private competition for both the government employees at West Point and the private sector" companies, an Army statement said.

The union also contends "employee morale has been devastated and workplace uncertainty is high."

The Army response: "We make every effort to minimize any adverse impact on affected civilian employees."

The union has allies in its fight with the Defense Department. As reported by, New York Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D) have complained that the private contractors were given an unfair advantage in the competition.

In an April 3 letter to Army Secretary Pete Geren, the Democratic senators said "the serious concerns raised by West Point's union warrant reversal of the decision to contract out the long-held jobs of government employees."

Apparently they don't want to rely on Geren agreeing to that request. The senators say they plan to introduce legislation preventing the privatization of the work. "Millions of taxpayer dollars and hundreds of jobs are at stake," they wrote, "and we cannot afford to risk disregarding either by engaging in an inaccurate and unfair process."

Last month, two key members of the House went further and told Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag they should halt all pending privatization initiatives.

This will allow time for Congress and the White House to review the program and "determine the best course for moving forward," said Democratic Reps. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Solomon P. Ortiz (D-Tex.), chairman of the readiness subcommittee, in a letter to the two officials.

Never one to mince words when Uncle Sam allows private contractors to get work his members could do, AFGE President John Gage said that the West Point privatization procedures resulted in "the worst examples of government waste I've seen since Walter Reed. This process is broken and it needs to stop right here and right now."

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