Bush administration officials say they do not play the numbers game when deciding which federal jobs should be put up for competition with the private sector, but one agency memo suggests that numbers do matter.

The memo was sent this week to staff at the National Institutes of Health and seemingly suggests that the agency is having trouble meeting its "competitive sourcing" goal this year.

"Through the process of pre-planning, it has become clear that additional functional areas must be competed in order to meet the necessary 340 positions agreed upon with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Management and Budget," the memo says.

Asked about the memo, Bill Hall, a spokesman for HHS, said the number of jobs to be put at risk was determined after HHS and NIH officials studied and discussed various "functional areas" that were appropriate for possible contracting out.

"There was no numerical quota," Hall said. "While the memo may come across that way, that was absolutely not the case."

A spokesman for OMB, Scott Milburn, said OMB does not set quotas under Circular A-76, which lays out the rules for job competitions. "Agencies are encouraged to set their own goals in line with their own needs, and we work with them to help them achieve their objectives," he said.

John Threlkeld, a policy analyst at the American Federation of Government Employees, said he was not aware of any job research or analysis conducted by NIH. "NIH is scrambling to cobble together a sufficient number of jobs to comply with a privatization quota imposed by OMB," he said.

The administration's job-competition initiative, launched in 2001, has roiled unions, created anxiety in some agencies and drawn scrutiny from Congress. In 2003, Congress banned the use of goals or quotas unless it was based on "considered research and sound analysis of past activities."

According to the memo, NIH had decided to put about 340 jobs up for bid this year in 11 areas that were deemed commercial activities. When a preliminary review found that hitting the goal would be difficult, NIH decided to add two other occupational areas as outsourcing possibilities, the memo says.

The new areas up for bid are in "administrative support" and "leadership and management support" and involve 134 positions held by employees whose salaries range from $35,450 to $56,370. Most of the affected employees work as secretaries, office managers, clerks and program support specialists.

Other jobs, previously identified as up for competition include library technicians, patient care unit clerks, information technology system administrators and employees who work in computing services, database maintenance, Web site maintenance and food services.

The memo is signed by Colleen Barros, deputy director for management at NIH, which has about 18,000 employees. She says no employees would lose their jobs even if their work is turned over to a contractor.

"Please remember that the current department policy is that all federal employees continue to have a job," she writes, adding that NIH "will help affected employees to move into new jobs by offering career counseling and training."

Elevating Finance

Score one for Rep. Todd R. Platts (R-Pa.).

The Department of Homeland Security yesterday issued a new organizational chart, replacing one issued two weeks ago, that makes clear that the department's chief financial officer reports directly to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

The announcement was made by Janet Hale, the department's undersecretary for management, with Andrew Maner, the chief financial officer, at a House Government Reform subcommittee hearing chaired by Platts. Under the new chart, Maner will also report to Hale.

Platts, who has urged the department to comply with a 1990 financial management law, welcomed the elevation of the CFO position, saying it would help ensure that good financial management is a top priority at the department.

The department has been embarrassed by reports of mismanaged contracts at the Transportation Security Administration and budget shortfalls that left some Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents without enough money to fill their cars with gas or use their cell phones.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com