Friday, February 22, 2008

Outsourcing Fire Suppression?

An article in the Washington Post claims the Administration intends to reinstate the competitive sourcing program within the U.S. Forest Service in 2009. The author, Stephen Barr, raises some interesting issues about how this could affect responses to fires and other emergencies.

Here are some excerpts:

"The Government Accountability Office faulted outsourcing projects at the Forest Service in a report released yesterday, prompting renewed calls for more scrutiny of the Bush administration's effort to contract out federal jobs, a plan known as competitive sourcing.

The Forest Service does not have a realistic long-term plan for determining which agency jobs should be given to the private sector and does not have reliable data to back up claims of cost savings, the GAO said.

In addition, outsourcing substantial numbers of Forest Service jobs to the private sector could, over time, reduce the agency's ability to fight fires in the wilderness and to respond to emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina."


"According to the GAO, the Forest Service plans to consider putting nearly two-thirds of the agency's workforce into job competitions against the private sector.

The success of such a "massive undertaking" will hinge on clear guidelines 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," the GAO concluded.

The Forest Service has about 37,000 full-time employees. About 10,000 hold a job related to firefighting, and another 20,000 are certified to fight fires and respond to national emergencies.

In its report, the GAO questioned whether contractors can be expected to provide emergency services, compared with Forest Service employees who know they may be asked to volunteer for one to three weeks each year on a fire line."


"Because of the controversy over job competitions and estimated savings, Congress shut down the Forest Service's competitive sourcing program for fiscal 2008. The administration wants to reinstate it for 2009."
Update: Feb. 29, 2009
HERE is a link to the GAO report.

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