Washington, DC —The U.S. Forest Service is studying how to contract out more than two-thirds of its total workforce by 2009, according to agency planning documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Coming on the heels of Bush administration plans to sell off 300,000 acres of Forest Service land, the agency is also looking to potentially privatize large portions of its environmental, law enforcement, fire-fighting and research operations.
Under the agency plans, 21,350 full-time jobs will soon be under review for possible replacement by private sector firms. The Forest Service has a total of 31,625 full-time jobs, according to Office of Personnel Management figures for FY 2003:
- During the current fiscal year, 500 fire-fighting jobs in the aviation program, including the famed smoke-jumpers, will be examined for outplacement to interested contractors;
- In FY 2007, approximately half of the agency’s law enforcement agents and rangers (600 positions), the jobs of all of its geologists (500 jobs) and 1,100 biologists who prepare environmental studies on the impacts of timber sales, oil and gas leasing and other actions on national forest lands may be put out to bid;
- In FY 2008, the agency’s entire network of scientists and other researchers (2,000 slots) and 3,000 foresters and range conservation staff positions will be reviewed for outsourcing potential.
“The Forest Service appears to be having an internal fire sale, with the heart of our national forests put out for bid on eBay,” stated Jeff Ruch, PEER Executive Director. “We may soon see the Weyerhaeuser National Forest patrolled by rent-a-rangers, overseen by private consultants.”
In 2003, an outsourcing plan of similar scope, designed to meet Bush administration outsourcing quotas prior to the 2004 election, was halted by Congressional action. Then, as now, one of the major concerns was the added cost to the Forest Service to conduct the studies and stage the competitions. In its latest proposed budget, the Bush administration is cutting back Forest Service operating funds without providing any new funds to pay for this broad undertaking. In 2003, the Forest Service spent an estimated $360 million on studies but produced no identifiable savings.
Large scale outsourcing also has a dampening impact on sagging employee morale, already depressed by shrinking budgets. To make matters more contentious, the Forest Service is advancing its plan without consulting the unions representing affected employees.
“For decades, this agency has invoked the phrase ‘Forest Service family’ to connote a cohesive, close-knit organization, but this plan puts whole branches of the family on the auction block,” Ruch added, noting that effective contract management has not been one of the strong suits of the federal government. “This whole misguided effort is an example of mindless management by slogan lacking in any analysis as to how to make the Forest Service actually run better or more efficiently.”