Technology employees at the U.S. Forest Service have won a job competition worth $295 million over five years and have promised to deliver at least $100 million in savings, officials said yesterday.

The job study, known inside the government as an A-76, is the largest nationwide competition ever at the Forest Service. It took 18 months and attracted only one outside bidder, who was not identified.

Dave Heerwagen, associate deputy chief for business operations at the Forest Service, said the employees kept the work in-house by creating a more efficient operation that will reduce staffing and the number of data centers that house the agency's computer servers.

The competition involved Forest Service employees who maintain computers and radios, install software upgrades, repair equipment and perform other technology-related tasks, such as conducting computer security checks and issuing log-on identifications.

About 2,500 Forest Service employees, spread across 43 states and in 155 national forests overseen by 120 offices, have technology duties as part of their job that could be deemed "commercial in nature" and subject to bid. About 830 of them are full-time technology employees.

To win the bid, the Forest Service team reduced staffing by about 180 positions. Not that many employees will lose their jobs, however, because a hiring freeze was imposed at the start of the competition.

The agency does not have an accurate count of how many employees will be displaced, but it could be about 100, Heerwagen said. To avoid layoffs, the Forest Service plans to offer early retirement and cash buyout packages and also allow employees to compete for jobs elsewhere in the agency.

In addition, the winning team will eliminate hardware, which will ease maintenance requirements, Heerwagen said. The agency will create 10 "server farms," consolidating data functions currently conducted at about 150 locations, he said.

"The primary reason that we won is not the complexity of our computing as much as the complexity of our organization, since we are spread out all over the country," Heerwagen said. "It was hard for private industry to compete with us when we really got down to sharpening our pencil and making sure our approach to this technology measured up to the industry standard."

He added, "We sort of competed against the industry standard, while private industry competed against us."

Forest Service officials plan to launch the restructured technology operation in October, the start of the next fiscal year.

Support Across Party Lines

Pollsters for a nonprofit group that promotes public service got a bit of a surprise when they got back their survey data on what Americans think of the government.

Support for government employees was strong and crossed party lines, with Republicans sometimes more supportive than Democrats.

In the poll, 91 percent of Democrats and Republicans said the work of federal employees was important to the average person's daily life.

Seventy-five percent of Republicans and 68 percent of Democrats said they were "more likely" to vote for a presidential candidate who makes it a priority to recruit the best and brightest for government work.

Ninety-three percent said they had a favorable opinion of people who serve in the military, 76 percent held favorable views toward Social Security employees, 74 percent had a favorable opinion of FBI employees, 68 percent had a favorable opinion of Internal Revenue Service employees, and 65 percent held favorable views toward Homeland Security employees.

In generic terms, "public servants" were viewed favorably by 74 percent and "civil servants" by 69 percent.

The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service released the national survey yesterday at the National Press Club. Research for the project was conducted by Republican pollster Jim McLaughlin and Democratic media consultants Bill Knapp and Tom Freedman.

Some of the results appear to reflect an evolving, more favorable image of government workers that has developed in recent years, the pollsters said.