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Bush opens 850,000 Fed jobs to competition

By RICHARD TOMKINS, UPI White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Bush administration plans to open as many as 850,000 federal government jobs to private sector competition was greeted with dismay Thursday by the unions representing more than 500,000 federal workers.

The plan, contained in the White House's Office of Management and Budget Circular No. A-76 (Revised), was to be published on Friday in the Federal Register, starting an adoption process in which Congress will have no say.

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"We're extremely pessimistic about it. If nothing else, we've been ignored in the compiling in this thing and we've been blindsided," said Wiley Pearson, an analyst with the American Federation of Government Employees.

Government officials denied that unions were ignored, saying consultations had been going on for a year.

"It's been an ongoing dialogue and we've considered their comments," said Trent Duffy, OMB spokesman.

"They certainly know what direction we've been going and we've been taking into account all of the input they have been giving us."

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Under A-76, all government work deemed a "commercial activity," from secretarial duties to building and grounds maintenance, is to be opened to competition from private sector bidders.

Competitive bidding, the administration argues, would save the government millions of dollars, foster innovation and service efficiency.

About half the estimated 850,000 jobs in the government now considered commercial activities would be subject immediately to the proposal, after a 30-day discussion period following the notice's publication.

"The proposal is part of the president's plan to make government more efficient and more effective, and the proposals being put forth today would open certain non-core government functions to competition," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

"As a result, we will save taxpayer money and make government more efficient. Public-private competitions save in excess of 30 percent on each competition, according to various reports.

"I think the president from day one has talked about making government more efficient and more effective and to work better -- making government work better for the American people. We'll always remain committed to those principles."

The rule would not apply to senior positions or job categories that an agency deems a government service. In those positions, employees exercise government authority or make decisions on behalf of the government.

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Appeals of category status can be made in a two-stage process to the Inventory Challenge Appeal Authority.

Duffy said the process envisaged would simplify the outsourcing process that has been around since the 1950s.

President George W. Bush tussled earlier with union interests on his proposal to create a new Department of Homeland Security. Democrats objected to his demand for authority -- which he enjoys over other departments -- to exempt some employees in the new department from collective bargaining for reasons of national security.

The proposal stalled in the Senate, but a new version was passed in the House on Wednesday by the lame-duck 107th Congress in the wake of the Republican victory in mid-term elections. It was expected to gain Senate approval.

Bush had earlier threatened to veto any legislation that didn't give him the hiring and firing flexibility he said was necessary.

The new proposal meets Bush's need but includes an appeal process.

The OMB says the competitive process would save taxpayers "tens of billions" over the years.

According to the AFGE, government workers in competitive bidding are winning about 60 percent of contracts put out for bid.

The OMB says studies by the Department of Defense, which has been active in the competitive bidding process for a number of years, shows that when jobs are won by the private sector, many displaced workers are either re-absorbed into the government or are hired to do their previous jobs by the private company.

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"The point that I think is key here is if there was true competition, if there was fairness in the system, I would probably echo those sentiments (of cost saving and improved efficiency)," Pearson said.

"But having been through these drills for the past eight or nine years, I really have some questions about whether whatever they put out on the street is going to be fair, whether it will have the taxpayers best interests (in mind) or whether this is, as is our view of (the proposal for a department of) homeland security, a wholesale assault on the federal workforce."

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