The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Forest Service Outsourcing Savings ‘Unverifiable,â€TM Audit Finds

by Brendan Coyne

Sept. 1, 2006 – A recently revealed Department of Agriculture audit raises troubling questions about claims that outsourcing government jobs saves money.

In an audit report earlier this year, the USDA said the Forest Service failed to provide enough financial documentation to back its claims that it saved over $1.6 million by contracting out vehicle maintenance at its Pacific Southwest office. Specifically, the Forest Service did not give auditors itemized costs for personnel, equipment and overhead, rendering the USDA’s efforts to analyze the limited information "futile," according to the report.

On May 1, the Forest Service terminated its contract with Serco Management Services, Inc., a parking management company, after an internal investigation found that the company had done shoddy work.

A redacted version of the USDA report, released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) yesterday, also noted that paperwork provided for the contracting agreement had not been properly completed.

The Forest Service is seeking to trim its workforce by as much as two-thirds through outsourcing, according to documents obtained and released earlier this year by PEER and the National Federation of Federal Employees. Under the plan, which nearly mimics a 2003 Forest Service initiative largely thwarted by congressional action, 21,350 permanent service positions are up for review by its Competitive Sourcing Office.

Environmental and workers organizations and some lawmakers have been raising alarm over the accelerated pace of federal workforce outsourcing since the Bush administration first came to power in 2001.

"While there may be disagreement about what tasks the public sector performs well, there is consensus that one thing the federal government does abysmally is manage contracts – exactly the activity this program seeks to expand," PEER executive director Jeff Ruch said in a statement accompanying the audit’s release. "This program is run by contractors for the benefit of contractors."

Neither the Forest Service nor the USDA had publicly commented on the audit as of press time. The Government Accountability Office reportedly began investigating Forest Service outsourcing plans earlier this summer.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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