Federal Workers Cry Foul … Again

Unemployment job employment figures
Federal employees who lose their jobs through privatization lost a right to appeal outsourcing decisions because of last minute changes to a massive spending bill.

The Office of Management and Budget successfully lobbied to remove several worker-friendly provisions from the $328 billion bill. The measure, which contains funding for several federal agencies, still needs final approval by the House and Senate. The House may vote next week, but the Senate might not take the bill up again until January, reports The Washington post.

Beginning in 2001, the Bush administration has pushed to introduce more private competition for government work. The White House requires each federal agency to inventory its workforce, to determine what jobs might be done by outside contractors. OMB estimates this could apply to 26 percent of the federal workforce.

The share varies by agency, however: while only 17 percent of Department of Health and Human Services employees would compete, more than three in five Department of Education workers would.

Supporters of the initiative say the use of more efficient private firms will save taxpayers money. OMB points to the Pentagon, which already does a good deal of outsourcing and says it has saved $6 billion over the past three years.

Opponents say privatization only saves money by paying workers substandard wages, and rarely saves very much money. The Pentagon's $6 billion savings, for example, represent only four tenths of one percent of defense spending over the three-year period.

According to The Post, lawmakers had added a clause to the omnibus budget bill giving workers the right to appeal job losses to the General Accounting Office. Another clause required private companies to promise savings of 10 percent, or $10 million, on any project that might involve 10 jobs or more.

Some Republicans as well as Democrats were upset at the changes.

"I think you've got the worst of all worlds," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis, R-Va.

"This is unfair to federal employees and unfair to the democratic process," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.

Federal employees unions slammed the move, which is the only the latest Bush administration effort that angered them.

In the omnibus bill, the president had requested a 4.1 percent raise for the military but only a 2 percent raise for other workers. Lawmakers decided to make the raises equal.

In June, Mr. Bush quietly signed an executive order stripping air traffic controllers of guaranteed government jobs, though officials said there were no plans to turn those positions over to the private sector.

In addition, at White House insistence, workers in the new Homeland Security Department were not given the same civil service protections as other federal employees. Officials said they needed flexibility to change assignments to respond to terror threats.