WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will explore outsourcing nearly five percent of its workforce over the next three years, according to agency memos released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). For the first time, enforcement-related positions will be offered for bid to private companies.
As described in a “Decision Paper” signed by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson on September 22, 2005, the agency has struggled over the past few years to meet its assigned goal of putting 850 full time equivalent positions — 5 percent of its total — out to bid for possible replacement by private providers by 2008. This latest plan increases four fold the number of employees potentially outsourced from the agency’s last published plan in 2004.
According to Johnson, the positions that will be offered for contract replacement are administrative in nature, including financial and information technology slots. EPA employees contacting PEER express concern that the new outsourcing targets affect—
- Enforcement. The agency’s enforcement laboratory, called the National Enforcement Investigations Center, could lose as many as 78 specialists to corporate labs. The NEIC is the nation’s leading forensic lab for environmental measurement and pollution compliance testing;
- Contractor Oversight. The agency’s financial analysts now review reports and invoices from the billions of dollars in research grants, toxic cleanup projects and other contracts administered by EPA. Both the Government Accountability Office and the agency’s own Inspector General have issued numerous critical reports about the agency’s insufficient oversight of its current contracts. EPA’s outsourcing plan, however, may result in one set of contractors overseeing the work of another set of contractors; and
- Workplace Diversity. Johnson’s decision memo admits that plans to contract out administrative positions “will heavily impact minority employees.” By way of mitigation, Johnson pledges to explore outplacement, training and “early outs and buyouts” for affected minority staff. Nonetheless, EPA will become less ethnically diverse even if these steps are successful.
“This outsourcing plan is not about making EPA more effective or protective of public health, it is about politics: giving more government work to contractors who will presumably be grateful to the President and his party for the lucrative opportunities,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “In the Bush administration, protecting the public is always a job for the lowest bidder.”
While the aggressive drive by the Bush administration to replace as much as one-quarter of all federal civil servants with private firms has foundered, agencies are still graded by the President’s Office of Management & Budget on the percentage of their workforces that are made available for contractor competition.