A report showing that relatively few Defense Department employees have lost their jobs because of the Bush administration's "competitive sourcing" program drew clashing, and predictable, responses this week.

The report, by Jacques S. Gansler and William Lucyshyn, both at the University of Maryland's Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise, calculated that competitive sourcing had reduced the number of Defense positions by 24,852 over a 10-year period. Only 8 percent of those employees -- full time and temporary -- were laid off.

Federal union leaders complained that the report failed to capture the aggressive nature of the job competitions held across government since President Bush took office. Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, told Washington Post staff writer Christopher Lee that "under this administration, employees are losing their jobs in large numbers."

Chris Jahn, president of the Contract Services Administration, argued that the report "confirms what industry has been saying all along -- jobs are not the issue. Providing the best value to the taxpayer is the issue."

The Bush administration's competitive sourcing program, which looks for commercial activities performed in the government that can be put up for bid, has evolved into a political football on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers stepping in to referee some competitions. But the players -- unions, contractors and lawmakers -- might be missing a larger issue: What kind of workforce is being created, and what does that mean for the future?

The Clinton-Gore administration, with the help of Congress, cut more than 350,000 civil service positions in the mid-1990s, leaving numerous agencies short of experienced hands and with a thin bench for promotions. Now, projections show that half of the federal workforce will be eligible for retirement over the next few years.

Steven L. Katz, a management adviser and former Democratic counsel on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, thinks agency leaders need to worry more about possible imbalances in their workforces and get a firmer grip on how they juggle in-house and contract employees.

"The real question that statistics won't explain is whether we have a 'blended workforce' or a 'fragmented workforce,' " Katz said.

"Many government employees feel that it is a fragmented one that not only impacts internal communication and cultural cohesiveness, but creates new responsibilities and expectations on managers -- who are managing multiple workforces from both inside and outside the federal government -- without the training or experience to do so," he said.

The Office of Management and Budget, in a May report, said it is urging agencies to develop long-range strategic plans for better management of employees. "OMB seeks to ensure competitions are tailored around the mission and workforce needs of each individual agency," the OMB report said.

Public-private jobs competitions are not new, of course.

On average, more than 16,000 federal jobs a year were studied for competition under the Reagan administration; 5,200 positions a year under the first Bush administration, and 7,000 positions a year under the Clinton administration, Gansler and Lucyshyn said.

In the current Bush administration, agencies held competitions for 17,595 jobs in fiscal 2003 and studied an additional 7,385 positions for possible competitions.

Even if job competitions don't lead to large-scale layoffs, "issues of low morale, insufficient staffing and feelings of unfairness can still pervade a workforce affected by competitions," Gansler and Lucyshyn said.

Their report, which was sponsored by the IBM Center for the Business of Government, recommended that agencies look for innovative ways to provide smooth transitions for employees and to help employees understand why workforce changes are being made.

Talk Shows

Dan Adcock, assistant director of legislation at the National Association of Retired Federal Employees, will be the guest on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on federalnewsradio.com.

Patrick Donahoe, chief operating officer at the U.S. Postal Service, will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"Vote!" will be the topic for discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com