WASHINGTON - House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Representative Tom Udall (D-NM) and four other members of Congress sent a letter to Director-Designee of the Office of Management and Budget, Josh Bolton, today criticizing administration plans to hire private contractors at America's national parks and make it harder for federal employees to compete for their jobs.
The White House has announced a policy to outsource over 425,000 federal jobs to private companies. Preliminary reports from the National Park Service (NPS) indicate that since this decision, only a few short weeks ago, 29 full-time and 6 part-time employees in Santa Fe are at risk of losing their jobs.
“Firefighting positions, maintenance workers, fee collectors, resource managers, archaeologists, biologists and historians could be privatized,” Congressman Udall said. “I believe the privatization plan jeopardizes natural resource management for corporate profit. There are times when the private sector can contribute effectively to government efficiency. However, private firms are most concerned about the bottom line. We should expect more than that from an agency that is in charge of maintaining a legacy for future generations.”
“The Bush Administration has made it a permanent policy to attack workers, including its own federal employees and this contracting out proposal is just the latest example,” said Congressman Hoyer. “At the very least, federal employees working for the National Parks Service should be given a chance to compete in the open market to keep their jobs, something that the Administration is not allowing and is even preventing. This proposal, which will disproportionately target minorities in low-grade positions, will further erode the morale and quality of federal employees, and will result in poor service for the American people.”
In a letter initiated by Udall and joined by Hoyer to Josh Bolten, Director-Designee of the Office of Management and Budget, the federal lawmakers, along with some of their colleagues, express their concern that the proposed outsourcing scheme could have serious consequences.
The letter questioned whether the Bush administration's proposal would actually save the federal government money, and asked Bolten what steps were being taken to ensure that the agency's commitment to diversity was being safeguarded. The federal government cannot force private enterprises to follow diversity guidelines, the letter said.
In an April 4, 2003 memo to Assistant Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett, National Park Service Director Fran Mainella revealed that 900 jobs are already slated for immediate replacement by private contractors with another 800 jobs to be bid out in the coming months. Altogether, removing these more than 1700 employees - just the first installment of outsourcing - will turn over approximately 13 percent of the Park Service's permanent work force.
Mainella wrote that a disproportionate number of jobs likely to be lost are held by minorities - particularly in San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Washington, D.C. Udall said that NPS has been struggling for years to make its workforce more diverse. As late as the mid-1990's, 87 percent of the Park Service's professional staff was Caucasian.
In order to meet the administration's quotas on outsourcing federal jobs, the National Park Service (NPS) will have to reduce visitor services and make other cutbacks, according to a memo from the Park Service Director. Since the administration did not seek funding to cover the costs of the thousands of competitive sourcing studies it has mandated, the costs are being absorbed by reductions in park operations.
Additionally, the OMB recently rewrote the A-76 privatization process to implement a new outsourcing process in lieu of the traditional public-private competition process for functions with fewer than 65 employees. This new streamlined process means that significant numbers of NPS jobs could be given to private contractors without real public-private competition, putting federal employees at a competitive disadvantage. Considering that the Administration's justification for privatization programs is that competition will improve services, this is also of concern.
Among other lawmakers signing the letter were House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Elijah Cummings, Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and Ciro Rodriguez, Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. A copy of the letter is available upon request.