Reining outsourcing in 

The Forest Service has done a “poor job” implementing its outsourcing efforts and should be forced to halt them, according to members of Congress crafting the 2008 federal budget. The Department of Interior’s funding bill, which passed out of the House Appropriations Committee June 7, includes a one-year moratorium that would prevent the Forest Service from spending any money on competitive sourcing. An accompanying report says the agency hasn’t adequately reported the costs or substantiated the savings it attributes to outsourcing. Nor has the Forest Service considered how outsourcing impacts its ability to fight wildfires, the report says.

“It’s fabulous news,” says Mark Davis, with the National Federation of Federal Employees Forest Service Council (NFFE), of the moratorium. “Since 2003 we’ve been saying the way they’re doing [competitive sourcing] is flawed, political and ideological. We need to shut it down until they can use it responsibly.”

Davis and others argue the Forest Service’s controversial efforts to boost efficiency through major reorganizations cost more than they save. In May, NFFE and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility released joint findings about one area in which the Forest Service claims success in competitive sourcing: the information technology (IT) sector. The agency recently eliminated nearly 550 jobs and centralized IT services, claiming annual savings of $29.5 million. But the employee groups point out 2005 and 2006 Forest Service data showing average employees spent many more hours on IT work weekly, adding an estimated $292 million in extra costs.

Davis says the appropriations bill’s moratorium on Forest Service competitive sourcing shows Congress is responding to the IT concerns and other problems. The Forest Service did not return a call requesting comment. And while the appropriations bill still faces many opportunities for amendment before it takes effect, Davis says the inclusion of a moratorium at this stage bodes well for those pushing for agency accountability.

“This is not a done deal by any means, but it’s a good sign,” he says. “It’s like getting through the first round of the playoffs.”
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