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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER): Forest Service Outsourcing Program a Fiasco, GAO Finds

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 21, 2008
10:58 AM

CONTACT: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
Mark Davis [NFFE] (920) 992-6208;
Carol Goldberg [PEER] (202) 265-7337

 
Forest Service Outsourcing Program a Fiasco, GAO Finds
Scathing Report Rips Firefighting Erosion, Illusory Savings and Law Violations
 

WASHINGTON, DC - February 21 - A Bush White House initiative that pressures federal agencies to put civil service jobs up for bid by private contractors has wreaked havoc in the U.S. Forest Service, according to a Government Accountability Office report released today. The GAO found the program put the nation’s fire response capabilities at risk, violated congressional restrictions and used shady accounting practices to hide costs – findings that validate past criticisms by National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) Forest Service Council and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Under the Bush administration “competitive sourcing” program, work performed by federal employees is either outsourced or awarded to in-house, quasi-contractual “service providers” formed by wrenching internal reorganizations. GAO concluded that Forest Service competitive sourcing –

  • Risked jeopardizing “the nation’s ability to fight fires and respond to other emergencies” by failing to consider how outsourcing positions affected the agency’s ability to respond to forest fires and other emergency situations requiring immediate on-the-ground capabilities;
  • Violated Congressional spending limits imposed to prevent abuse;
  • “[C]ould not substantiate the savings it reported to Congress.” In one case, costs of roughly $40 million were excluded from the $35 million in savings reported to Congress.

“We welcome the findings of this independent GAO review as an important first step in bringing some accountability to this misguided and counterproductive program,” said Mark Davis, Chair of the NFFE Forest Service Council Legislative Committee, noting that the Forest Service follows the same OMB accounting guidance used by all federal agencies, thus throwing in doubt any White House claims of major savings from competitive sourcing. “A broader, government-wide review is needed into OMB’s role in encouraging misleading accounting practices and outsourcing inherently governmental work.”

GAO typically uses guardedly euphemistic terms in its publications, yet in this report it employed blistering language to describe the Forest Service competitive sourcing program, such as –

“This is a massive undertaking whose long-term success will depend on a realistic strategic plan, clear guidance to identify the key work activities that should be excluded from competition, and a strategy to assess the cumulative effect that outsourcing a large number of federal jobs could have on its firefighting capability. Unfortunately, the Forest Service has none of these in place.”

“From day one, competitive sourcing in the Forest Service has been an utter horror show,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The fact that the Bush administration still touts this misbegotten program as a ‘management reform’ is an indication of just how late in the day it is.”

In the current FY 2008 budget, Congress barred the use of any further funding for competitive sourcing in the Forest Service – a ban that ends this October unless extended. Meanwhile, competitive sourcing continues in other agencies.

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Read the GAO Report on Forest Service Competitive Sourcing

Learn how the Forest Service kept its outsourcing losses off the books

Examine the termination of the fleet maintenance contract for shoddy and unsafe work

View the conflict between Forest Service firefighting capability and outsourcing

Look at congressional restrictions on Competitive Sourcing in Interior and Forest Service

See the current effort to prepare Forest Service biologists for outsourcing

Revisit how Forest Service could not pass its own audits to document outsourced savings

Find out more about the competitive sourcing process

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