Thousands of federal jobs here and around the nation would be abolished and farmed out to private contractors over the next couple of years under a tough new directive worked up at White House request by the Office of Management and Budget.
The 22-page proposal, "Policies and Procedures for Acquiring Commercial Products and Services Needed by the Government" would--if approved by the president--strongly encourage agencies to contract out much work now performed in-house by government.
The proposal says "a decision for continuing in-house performance of commercial-type activities based on cost must be supported by a cost-comparison" prepared in accordance with new guidelines, which would be tilted toward industry. Commercial-type activities are a variety of services such as laundry, maintenance, security and certain types of research.
The proposal further says that "continued operation of a government commercial activity may be authorized if a cost comparison prepared in accordance" with the new guidelines "indicates that the government can provide or is providing a product or service at a lower total cost than if it were obtained from a private commercial source."
Federal contracting-out policies in recent years have required agencies to show that it would be considerably cheaper to fire employes and turn over their work to contractors. The key, of course, has been the yardstick used to define "considerably cheaper."
Although the draft says cost match-ups--using the new guidelines--should be considered, agency heads would not have to consider cost comparisons for small functions employing relatively few federal workers.
"Activities with less than 10 full-time employes shall be converted to contract performance as soon as practicable, but no later than Sept. 30, 1983, without a cost comparsion," the guides say.
To make contracting easier, the guides tell agencies not to "incur the delay and expense" of cost-comparison to "justify in-house performance of commercial activities" in small units. And they would give agency heads--mostly political appointees--authority to waive cost comparisons in many cases, no matter what size the commercial activity.
Uncle Sam already pays private firms millions to perform services, from security to research. The new proposal, which insiders say is likely to be approved, would certainly encourage more contracts for services and research and, indeed, make it tougher for agencies to justify doing it themselves.
Federal employe unions have always fought contracting out. They say it is a smokescreen to trick the taxpayers into thinking government is getting smaller while federal outlays and costs actually increase. They will fight the new guidelines tooth and nail.
The proposal, if adopted, doesn't necessarily mean that the government will turn over operation of the Washington Monument or Yellowstone Park to the folks who run Disneyworld or King's Dominion. But if the guidelines fly, it would make it a lot easier to justify that--and a lot more.