Nearly one-third of the white-collar federal work force could find itself working for a private contractor over the next few years. For some, it might mean a raise and better perks. But for many federal workers, privatization could mean reduced job security, less vacation time and reduced pension benefits.

Unlike many earlier shifts of federal work to the private sector, which involved blue-collar civil servants, the next round will focus on white-collar employees in a variety of administrative, clerical and support jobs.

To find out whether you and your job could go on the block, take this simple quiz: What do the following civil servants have in common?

* Payroll clerks at the Flagstaff, Ariz., Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation.

* Some employees of the Office of Management and Budget's systems design, development and programming services here.

* Dozens of accounts payable and travel clerks in the Washington, San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, Seattle and Kansas City offices of the Environmental Protection Agency.

What those workers--and 100,000 of their colleagues from Washington to Anchorage--have in common is this: All their jobs have been posted on a hit list drawn up by their agencies. The positions have been identified as prime candidates for privatization.

And that's not the end of it. Defense, over the next few years, will review 230,000 of its civilian jobs to see whether they should be forced to compete with private-sector bidders.

Early this year, the Federal Diary reported that more than 300,000 federal jobs could wind up on the government-to-privatization menu.

On Sept. 30, more than 50 agencies issued lists with 100,000 jobs identified for possible privatization. It was required by the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act. President Clinton signed the legislation last year. Over the last six years, the White House-initiated downsizing program has trimmed 300,000 jobs from the federal payroll. Many of those jobs are now being performed by private contractors.

The FAIR law required agencies to identify jobs that are "not inherently governmental" that are now being performed in house by full-time career civil servants.

Many people--in Congress and the general public--believe the government has no business competing with business. They feel the competitive, bottom-line spirit of the private sector means it can do most things faster, better and cheaper than Uncle Sam.

Others contend that privatization is a shell game that has created a "shadow government" employing millions of people whose salaries are still paid by the taxpayers. In some agencies, workers who report to contractors are becoming as numerous as civil servants under direct federal control.

The Defense Department--the largest federal employer--has already reviewed nearly 100,000 jobs for competitive bidding with the private sector and plans to open up as many as 200,000 more civilian federal jobs to competition over the next few years. That's a dramatic increase, according to Katherine McIntire Peters, of Government Executive magazine. She says that from 1979 to 1996, only about 90,000 Defense civilian jobs were earmarked for possible privatization. Brian Friel, who has been tracking the downsizing story for the magazine, says that in the past, when agencies targeted jobs for competition against private contractors, "about half" of the work done by federal employees wound up being transferred to the private sector.

The magazine has undertaken the grueling task of poring through the list of tens of thousands of jobs, in dozens of agencies, listed in the FAIR privatization list. It has posted them on its Web site: http://www.govexec.com

Fighting Back

While federal agencies turn more of their work over to the private sector, the American Postal Workers Union continues to organize private-sector employees doing postal-style work. Most recently, the APWU won a 58 to 37 vote to become the bargaining agent for 106 drivers with Mail Contractors of America in Urbandale, Iowa. Why private-sector truck drivers? The answer: Most of the nation's intercity mail moves by truck.

Copyrighted

You can't copyright individuals, but if you could, folks at the Library of Congress say they wish they could keep the rights to Marie P. Fleming, who is retiring--or entering the public domain--after 45 years of federal service. Her official title is senior copyright information specialist. Colleagues say she is a "great lady" they will miss.

Mike Causey's e-mail address is causeym@washpost.com

Thursday, Oct. 7, 1999