As the Bush administration rushes to put the public lands into the hands of private industry, a model group of Forest Service employees gets canned

  • In its rush to put the public lands into private hands, the Bush administration fires a team of model Forest Service employees

    Jon Krause
  • Jody Sutton built the Content Analysis Team that, according to one report, Had a track record unequaled by any other organized process. The team's work is being farmed out to private contractors

    Chad Harder
  • Susan Hickenlooper

    Fred Hayes
  • Jen Colby

    Fred Hayes
  • Dave Strohmaier

    Chad Harder
  • Ted Hughes

    Chad Harder

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - Jody Sutton gets a lot of mail. More mail, probably, than you can imagine. Many of the thousands of letters, and tens of thousands of e-mails and form-letters that the public sends to the Forest Service and other federal land-management agencies each year, come to her office.

The letters from environmentalists asking the Forest Service to preserve roadless forests and stop timber companies from toppling ancient trees. The letters from off-roaders telling the Bureau of Land Management to keep the Imperial Sand Dunes open to dune buggies. The letters asking the National Park Service to keep Yosemite Valley open to cars, or to make visitors ride buses.

In theory, at least, these letters put the "public" into the public lands. They give all of us a say in how the national parks, forests, deserts and wildlife refuges are run. For the great majority of Americans, comment letters are the only way to get involved in public-land management. And with letters, we can weigh in early in the process, rather than resorting to appeals and lawsuits later, which can lead to the kind of delays that Bush administration higher-ups often call "analysis paralysis."

So Sutton, who is branch chief of the Forest Service? Content Analysis Service Center, has a huge job ?and until recently, she had a dream team that helped her do it. She oversaw a staff of 65 that did the work of Santa's elves, poring over mountains of letters to see what the public wanted. The Content Analysis Team, or "CAT" for short, had offices in Salt Lake City and Missoula, Mont., and strong backing from Washington, D.C.

"They were fantabulous," says Chris Wood, who was senior policy advisor to the Clinton administration? Forest Service Chief, Mike Dombeck. "They were able to distill the kernel of hundreds of thousands of comments into coherent documents that the policymakers were able to access. It was government at its best."

Today, things have changed. Sutton is one of 18 agency staffers who occupy a quiet office building in an industrial park west of the Salt Lake City airport. A good chunk of the building is used for storage. One room is lined with about 100 blank computer monitors, slated to be "surplused," or sold off. Back rooms are stacked to the ceiling with boxes of old comment letters, carefully labeled to indicate which project they relate to: "Roadless I," "Roadless II," "Tongass." A second office building, once bustling with CAT workers, is locked up and empty, the shades drawn down over the windows.

Sutton's story - and this hollow shell of an office - offer a glimpse of what's happening to the federal land-management agencies nationwide, as the Bush administration rushes to put more of their work into the hands of private contractors. Over the past year, biologists, archaeologists, maintenance workers and others have watched as their jobs have been farmed out. All this has been at tremendous cost to the taxpayers, who have picked up the tab for outsourcing studies. It has also, critics say, taken a serious toll on the public lands.

The mid-1990s saw an explosion of public comments, as environmental groups and industry began to use form letters, post cards and e-mail to bury the agencies with mail from their constituencies in response to a string of high-profile issues. Jody Sutton was right in the middle of that explosion.

Sutton, the former owner of an art brokerage house, signed on with the Forest Service because she wanted to stay closer to her home in Montana - and because a steady paycheck had some appeal. In the mid-1990s, she landed a job at the Flathead National Forest in Kalispell, Mont., working to get the public involved in forest management under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

NEPA, passed in 1969, is the mother of all environmental laws, requiring all federal agencies to perform environmental impact statements and other studies before undertaking any major project (HCN, 10/28/02: Bush undermines bedrock environmental law). It also provides the public with ways to get involved, such as meetings, comment letters and appeals. While there is no requirement that the agencies heed public sentiment - or that they make environmentally friendly decisions - in practice, the public does have some influence.

When her boss retired, Sutton took over the job of analyzing public-comment letters, starting with the 1,200 comments in response to a forest plan amendment that proposed closing roads to protect grizzly bear habitat. It didn't take long for others in the agency to recognize that Sutton was good at what she was doing. Shortly after she's finished the Flathead grizzly project, the Washington office handed her 1,600 letters in response to the agency's 1995 revised Planning Rule, which guides how national forests write their management plans.

The work ballooned from there. In 1997, Sutton found herself, along with a cobbled-together team of Forest Service staffers, college students, and 20 or 30 temporary data-entry workers, in Walla Walla, Wash., digging through some 70,000 letters in response to the massive Inner Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Plan (HCN, 11/23/98: Ecosystem management hits a bump in the road).

"I was getting more projects. There was a huge market for content analysis inside the agency," says Sutton. "It was kind of like a fire team; any time you thought you were going to get a lot of comments, you? call Jody."

Under Vice President Al Gore? campaign to "reinvent government," Sutton built what was called an "enterprise team." Rather than receiving annual funding from the Forest Service, the CAT team contracted with government agencies, operating more like a private business than as part of a public agency. The team worked for the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

At the CAT offices in Missoula and Salt Lake City, mountains of mail were opened and sorted, the writers' names and addresses added to a computer database. Form letters were grouped and counted. Coders read each unique letter, highlighting the most important points, which were added to the database and sorted by subject. Writers then read through the comments on each subject, and wrote a statement capturing the gist of each. A team of agency staffers then wrote short responses to each statement. Finally, editors compiled the whole thing into a report - often a massive tome - that went to decision makers.

Though digging through long-winded letters in search of salient points was tedious - and though, in the end, a single letter from a Congressman might have more sway with decision makers than a thousand from the general public - the CAT team took great pride in its work. "I think there was a certain idealism with working for the government, working for the people," says Susan Hickenlooper, who was a lead editor in the Salt Lake City office. "You've giving voice to people around the country. We took that seriously."

Hickenlooper, 52, has a master's degree in linguistics and a Ph.D. in philosophy. She's exactly the kind of person you'd want to be in charge of an office full of federal employees who are doing important work on the taxpayers' dime: She's a perfectionist, a detail person.

"I was amazed at the quality of the letters we would get from average people, who would spend an enormous amount of time writing," says Jen Colby, 40, who worked as a writer-editor on the Salt Lake City team. She joined CAT after a decade working seasonally for Outward Bound and in the ski industry, has a bachelor?'s degree in biology, nearly a Ph.D. in biochemistry, and for fun in her spare time, she?'s reading the weighty Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought.

If members of the CAT team were smart, they were also thoughtful. From time to time, says Colby, someone would write, "I know nobody is reading these letters." Occasionally, when there was a break in the action, a team member would pick up the phone, call the writer and say, "Hey, we do read your comments. Thank you."

The team treated even form letters and e-mails with respect. "Somebody took five minutes out of their evening, read their alert and sent an e-mail," says Colby. "That's significant."

Almost anyone who worked with CAT will tell you that Jody Sutton had built something remarkable. In addition to redefining the way the Forest Service looked at public comments, she was building a new generation of federal employees. "A lot of agency staffers are getting older," says Colby. "Jody really wanted to get younger people in, and give them an appreciation for NEPA." Geologists, wildlife biologists and hydrologists who started their careers with CAT were landing jobs in other agency offices.

In October 2002, the consulting firm Newfields International did a study of different content-analysis techniques, comparing CAT to other agencies and private contractors. The study, commissioned by Yosemite National Park, concluded that CAT was the most cost-effective, high-quality system available, with a "track record (that) is not equaled by any other organized process."

It was just two months later, shortly before Christmas, when members of the Content Analysis Team got the news that their positions were being studied for possible outsourcing to private contractors.

Since the 1950s, long before the current fashion of government bashing and free-marketeering, some kinds of federal work -deemed "commercial" rather than "inherently governmental" - have been contracted to the private sector.

Concessionaires run hotels and campgrounds in the national parks and forests, for example. The handling of environmental impact studies and public comment varies from agency to agency, but much of that work has been contracted out as well.

With the free-market fever, the Republican-run Congress turned up the heat in 1998, passing the Federal Activities Inventory Reform, or "FAIR" Act, requiring the agencies to search for "commercial" jobs that could be farmed out to private industry. The first FAIR inventory turned up roughly 850,000 jobs - more than half of the civilian workforce - that were deemed appropriate for privatizing. The list included almost 34,000 jobs in the Interior Department and 23,000 in the Forest Service, which is in the Agriculture Department.

President Clinton's Office of Management and Budget found reasons to exempt many jobs from public-private competition. Under his watch, most of the action was in the Defense department, though other agencies dabbled: The U.S. Geological Survey, for example, contracted out much of its mapping program.

When President Bush came into office, he ramped up a broad outsourcing campaign, ordering federal agencies to expose half of the 850,000 jobs turned up in the FAIR review to "competitive sourcing." The jobs would be put out for bid; the agencies could bid for the work themselves, but if a private contractor offered the "best value," agency staffers would lose their jobs.

Free-market economists loved the idea, saying that competition would instantly create a "race-to-the-top," as agency staffers were forced to save money and do a better job, or lose out to private industry. Some proponents touted it as a way to clear the agencies of dead wood, prodding older employees to retire.

"The logic is that management excellence is a journey, not a destination," says Assistant Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett, a Bush appointee who oversees budgeting and NEPA work in the Park Service, the BLM, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and other agencies. "It's about applying careful review and careful reflection and systematic analysis, so that we've using each dollar the best that we can."

Many federal employees, however, and others who believe that essential government functions are under attack, see competitive sourcing as a club. Unions and environmental groups berated it as an effort to put the public lands under the control of private industry.

Scarlett shrugs off those interpretations. "A lot of people mistook competitive review for outsourcing, contracting, privatization. In fact, it's not about a predetermined outcome of public or private."

Yet the skepticism doesn't seem out of line, given Scarlett's background. Before she was named to her current post by her longtime friend, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Scarlett spent two decades working for - and eventually leading - the libertarian, free-market think tank, the Reason Foundation. Reason is heavily funded by timber, petroleum, development, tobacco, automobile and drug companies.

Scarlett has ties to several other libertarian and free-market think tanks in the West, including the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE), and the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), both based in Bozeman, Mont., as well as the Thoreau Institute in Bandon, Ore.

Scarlett has advocated for what she calls "New Environmentalism," based on market forces, rather than on government regulation. She has argued for privatizing waste management, and against curb-side recycling, air pollution controls and pesticide restrictions that she views as too expensive. In a recent interview with the online magazine, Grist, she declared cheerily that "Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' has a green thumb."

In a 1996 paper, Scarlett made the case for putting most environmental decisions in the hands of the states - and made it clear that she wants to do more than just introduce competition into the government workforce: "Devolution to states does not really go far enough," she wrote, "since, ultimately, what is needed is further decentralization to local communities and, where feasible, privatization of environmental decisions."

And while Scarlett may be one of the most outspoken free-marketeers in the Bush administration, there are others. Interior Secretary Gale Norton, for one, also has ties to PERC, and was a national fellow at the Hoover Institution, whose mission statement includes this: "Ours is a system where the Federal Government should undertake no governmental, social or economic action, except where local government, or the people, cannot undertake it for themselves."

Certainly, when it came to outsourcing the CAT team, there was little of the "careful reflection" and "careful review" that administration higher-ups describe.

Initially, Forest Service officials told the team that it would be the subject of a competitive sourcing review because it was sure to beat out the private competition. "They told us, 'You'll be a shining example for the rest of the agency of how successful federal employees can be,' " says one former team member.

But three months later, after a roller coaster ride of direction changes and mixed messages, the agency canceled the review and announced that the team would be subject to "direct conversion." The management team would remain in place, but the content analysis work would be doled out to private consultants.

The decision came despite the fact that there had been no study of whether private consultants could do a better or less expensive job. In fact, what little information the agency had collected suggested that it would be significantly cheaper to keep the work in-house. The decision also flew in the face of the Newfields International study of content analysis methods, which found that previous attempts to farm out the CAT process had created "substantial problems with contractor staff training, difficulty generating accurate and consistent statements of concern, and much higher costs than experienced when the Forest Service (CAT team) implemented the process."

Some team members were furious. In Missoula, a handful of them joined a union and filed grievances with the Forest Service, claiming that the agency was required to do a public-private cost comparison. Working with the nonprofit Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, they sued the agency, attempting to force a public-private competition, and arguing that their jobs had been arbitrarily deemed "commercial."

"They fired all the workers and kept the management," says Ted Hughes, one of the former Missoula analysts who is pressing the lawsuit. "We've been kept in the dark. We don't know what they're gone through to make this decision to get rid of us."

Not all CAT team members were willing to fight. While most felt that they did a fine job, many acknowledge that content analysis wasn't perfect inside the agency, and that private firms could - and, in fact, do - manage that type of work.

"I've seen some marginal examples of public comment analysis done within public agencies," says Dave Strohmaier, who was a team leader in the Missoula office. "There are some examples of private consulting firms that have done a very good job of public-comment analysis."

Even for team members who believe the private sector could analyze comments about as well, though, the manner in which the team was dispatched insulted their years of dedicated public service. The overall sense was that the team was bombed on the runway, just as it was ready to take off.

The Bush administration's outsourcing campaign made headlines across the country last year. The Washington Post reported that more than a quarter of the 35,000 jobs in the Forest Service would be studied for possible outsourcing. The Los Angeles Times reported that about 70 percent of the full-time jobs in the Park Service - almost 13,000 positions - would be candidates for outsourcing. The positions included not only operations and maintenance staff, but also biologists, archaeologists and park rangers.

To do the presidentially mandated self-study, the Park Service hired the Denver-based engineering giant CH2M Hill - a firm that has also landed multimillion-dollar contracts to help rebuild Iraq. The $2 million contract was awarded without competitive bidding.

Because the administration had not sought congressional funding for the studies, the agencies were forced to carve the money out of their already tight operations and maintenance budgets. In an April 4, 2003 letter to Lynn Scarlett, Park Service Director Fran Mainella stated that the costs for the Park Service studies could run as high as $3 million - and that didn't include the pay for the dozens of Park Service employees who were being pulled from other priority projects to help with the competitive sourcing study.

"We do not have a fund source to cover these studies," wrote Mainella. "Covering these costs would have serious consequences for visitor services and seasonal operations."

By May, the nonprofit watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) was reporting that the Park Service was cutting more than a quarter of its repair budgets in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and Hawaii to pay for anti-terrorism activities and competitive sourcing studies. This, despite the fact that Bush had come into office pledging to address the $5 billion maintenance backlog in the parks.

PEER also reported that the Forest Service's competitive sourcing studies were way over the predicted $10 million annual budget. The agency claimed it spent $6.3 million in 2003, but at the behest of the president's Office of Management and Budget, it did not include the costs of paying existing employees to help with the studies.

The Campaign to Protect America's Lands, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group, released an October report stating that the Bureau of Land Management had spent almost $2 million to study 371 employees. At that rate, the study concluded, the Interior department would spend more than $110 million to study 21,000 positions targeted for competitive sourcing. For a perennially underfunded department, that's a lot of money: enough to run Yellowstone National Park for four years, Grand Canyon for almost six years, or Mount Rainier for more than 12 years. Meanwhile, federal employees were winning the competitions much of the time, proving that they could do better work than contractors.

Lynn Scarlett reported that Interior had spent a total of $2.6 million in 2003, saving the taxpayers more than $2 million in the process. But again, the salaries of existing agency staffers were not figured in. Also, 661 of 762 positions that were studied were, like the CAT team, "direct conversions," meaning that there was no public-private competition, and much of the money was spent to study just 101 jobs.

All this fueled a heated debate in Congress, where Democrats tried to forbid Interior and the Forest Service from spending money on competitive sourcing studies in 2004. As a result of a compromise, the 2004 Interior funding bill allows some studies, but limits Interior's spending to $2.5 million, and the Forest Service's to $5 million. And it does away with "direct conversion" of groups of more than 10 federal employees, forcing the agencies to prove that outsourcing will save 10 percent of costs or $10 million.

The opposition infuriates the champions of competitive sourcing, including those with Lynn Scarlett's longtime employer, the Reason Foundation. In an opinion piece posted on Reason's Web site, one writer suggests to federal employees: "Take a step back and realize that your bleating only serves to strengthen the negative stereotype of the coddled, employed-for-life federal worker."

In fact, some land managers say the competitive review process has been a useful tool, forcing them to take a fresh look at old ways of doing things, and to trim some organizational fat. Some add, however, that this sort of examination should be a gradual, ongoing process, rather than an everything-at-once bombshell.

"There? this assumption that competition improves the agency. But sometimes competition is quite disruptive," says PEER's executive director, Jeff Ruch. "There is always room for improvement within an institution, but you don't want to do it at the expense of integrity or institutional memory."

The Forest Service's official explanation for its treatment of the CAT team, laid out in a June 26, 2003 memo from Deputy Chief Tom Thompson, goes like this: The team? workload varied greatly from month to month and year to year, so employees had periods of down-time; private consultants regularly do content analysis work as a part of NEPA contracts; and adding 45 or more new permanent positions to the agency's staff "did not appear to be a prudent decision." (Up to that point, most CAT employees had only temporary "term" contracts.)

CAT team members acknowledge that there were times when they did not have major projects to work on - particularly with the turnover in administrations, when many projects were delayed - so they were running a deficit. (Some also admit to breaking government rules and working late nights and weekends during busy times - which came with the territory, as mounds of comment letters piled in at the last minute, and Washington bigwigs wanted quick results.)

But the official explanation doesn't quite ring true.

"We were an experiment to see if a unit of government could perform in a self-supporting way - an attempt to bring some degree of fiscal and social accountability to government agencies," says Dave Strohmaier. "To a large extent, we succeeded."

Even more strange is the fact that the Bush administration has been shouting the praises of collaboration and public participation, yet one of the first things that the Forest Service contracted out was the CAT team - the public - broadest communication pipeline to land managers.

"What's troubling for me," says Strohmaier, "is to offer up what is really at the heart of the public-involvement process for outsourcing when the Forest Service is under attack from so many interest groups. There's so much lack of trust on all parties' parts."

There's another possible explanation for why the agency gutted CAT: Tension had been building between some members of the CAT team and Bush administration officials. CAT staffers say they had objected to pressure from Washington to stop accepting form letters. They also say administration higher-ups altered one of their most high-profile efforts: their report on the 726,000 comments in response to the second round of analysis of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

The original Roadless Rule, which had its genesis under President Clinton, would have protected 58 million acres of national forest from logging and road-building. It drew 1.6 million public comments, and, as Forest Service officials at the time were fond of pointing out, the overwhelming majority of them were in favor of the rule. But timber companies challenged the rule in court, and the Bush administration put up only a feeble defense, allowing it to be knocked down (HCN, 7/30/01: Bush fails to defend roadless rule). Environmental groups appealed the decision, but the administration quickly went back to the drawing board, announcing that it would rewrite the Roadless Rule, and opening another round of public comments, which went to the CAT team in Salt Lake City.

The original CAT report was not significantly different from the report the team had done on the original Roadless Rule under Clinton - until it went to Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey's Washington office for review. As a timber industry lobbyist in the early 1990s, Rey pushed to get rid of citizen appeals. Later, working as a congressional staffer, he was the architect of the infamous salvage logging rider, which disabled appeals, as well as Idaho Sen. Larry Craig's National Forest Management Act, which would have allowed the Forest Service to fine citizens up to $10,000 for appealing timber sales. In the late days of Clinton? term, Rey led Craig's opposition to the Roadless Rule, and helped stall it long enough for the Bush administration to get its hooks into it (HCN, 7/30/01: Forestry nominee: Rey or light or death Rey's).

According to former members of the CAT team, Rey's office ordered them to strip the report of any reference to the strength of the public's feelings, and to the numbers of people writing in on various sides of the issue. Several CAT staffers say the order, which they believe came from Undersecretary of Agriculture Dave Tenny, was to make the report "vanilla."

A memo distributed to CAT team members a short time later instructed them to "avoid any emphasis on conflict or opposition and also avoid any appearance of measuring the 'ote' highlighting areas of conflict serves no good purpose in dealing with the issues or interests, and may only exacerbate the problems." The memo included two lists of words, headlined, "DO NOT USE" (many, most, oppose, support, impacts, clear cuts) and "DO USE" (some, state, comment, effects, even-aged management).

For many members of the CAT team, it was too much. They took great pride in their work, and for Washington political appointees to take a knife to their report felt like an attack on their integrity, and censorship of the public's feelings.

"It seems like the height of micromanagement for someone at his (Tenny's) level to be commenting on one of our reports," says Strohmaier.

Was the CAT team dismantled in part because it was doing its job too well - because it was telling the Forest Service what it needed to hear, rather than what it wanted to hear? That's hard to prove, especially since an atmosphere of intimidation seems to reign in the agency. One employee confides, "They'd nail me to a cross if I talked to you about competitive sourcing."

Dave Tenny declined an invitation for an interview for this story, but Mark Rey denies that tensions between the CAT team and the Bush administration had anything to do with the outsourcing. He says he doesn't know of anyone in his office altering the roadless report, and doesn't remember telling the team not to mention the number of people who wrote in favor of the rule or against it.

"What we suggested is that we wanted a straightforward summary of the comments, with little editorial opinion from the analysis team," he says. "What they produced met our objective."

Rey says the Bush administration is putting more emphasis on public participation than the Clinton administration did; the Interior Department published new NEPA procedures in March that emphasize public involvement early in the process, and Rey says the Forest Service is implementing a similar plan. But Rey's distaste for the public-comment process is obvious. The landslide of letters in response to the original roadless rule was the result of "grassroots mobilization" by foundation-funded environmental groups, he says: "Those comments cost roughly $7 a comment.

"Groups mobilize their supporters in order to turn out a vote," he says. "It doesn't necessarily give you a better reflection of the public view."

For one former CAT team member, the message is clear: "The Bush administration doesn't particularly like public participation," says Ted Hughes. "It makes them look bad."

As this story goes to press, Forest Service officials are picking consulting firms that will take over the job of reading and analyzing the public's comment letters. Competition seems tight. More than 60 "interested vendors" are listed on the Agriculture Department's Web page. The list includes small firms based around the West - and large corporate engineering firms such as Tetra Tech, Labat-Anderson and CH2M Hill.

The agency will release no information on what contractors are likely to win the bid, or about how high the final price tag will be. But, working under the supervision of Jody Sutton and her management team, the contractors will soon be charged with reading some very important mail, including another round of comments on the Roadless Rule and a new nationwide policy on off-road vehicles.

Sutton refuses to talk about the contracting process, or about competitive sourcing. She seems frustrated with the events of the past year, but is resolved to keep her project alive, even if it means working with private consultants, rather than with her dream team: "It's a different model, and I'm going to go for it," she says.

Sutton insists that the content-analysis process won? change, and that she has big plans for improving it with computer mapping and the World Wide Web. "Please, please let people know that we?e going to take care of their work," she says. "We like public comment."

Sutton's team has scattered. Susan Hickenlooper is teaching world religions and logic courses part time at the University of Utah, and enjoying her garden and her grandkids. Jen Colby landed a job as a volunteer coordinator for Utah's Wasatch-Cache National Forest, and says she likes getting out and talking to the public in person. Dave Strohmaier is working for a consulting firm in Missoula that has bid for the CAT team's work. Others have gone back to school. One says she likes being "a regular person" again, outside the government.

Ted Hughes says he has filed his third round of grievances with the Forest Service (the first rounds were rejected), and is waiting to hear back about another grievance filed by the union, a grievance which the agency is trying to get thrown out. The lawsuit, too, is up in the air. FSEEE has asked a Missoula judge to stop the Forest Service from hiring contractors for the CAT work until the suit is resolved. The Forest Service has asked the judge to dismiss the case.

Meanwhile, the competitive sourcing initiative has hit some stumbling blocks. While the Office of Management and Budget updated and refined the competitive sourcing process three times last year, a February report from the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found problems. Agencies still lack the funding and staff to carry out competitive sourcing studies, according to the report, while they have been focused on meeting quotas imposed by the president, rather than saving money or improving performance.

The president, for his part, has backed off on his goal of opening 425,000 federal jobs to private competition. The most recent FAIR Act inventory includes far fewer positions than the original 850,000, and agencies have been given more freedom to set their own goals for public-private competition.

The Forest Service has decided to spend 2004 finishing the studies it started in 2003. Results of a study of 1,200 information technology positions should be announced this spring. The agency is making plans for 20058.

The Interior Department, under the supervision of Lynn Scarlett, is moving forward more aggressively. It plans to study another 2,000 positions, ranging from the managers of the BLM's e-mail system to the archaeologists working at the Western Archaeological and Conservation Center in Tucson, Ariz. (Scarlett says the Park Service will save $850,000 this year, thanks to a competitive sourcing review that pared down its Southeast Archaeology staff in 2003.) The department expects to spend about $2 million on the studies. PEER's Jeff Ruch says competitive sourcing has lost some of its steam, but adds, "If the president is re-elected, it could get up and running again very soon."

Greg Hanscom is editor of High Country News.

Jeff Ruch Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, 202-265-PEER

Andy Stahl Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, 541-484-2692

Geoffrey Segal Reason Public Policy Institute, 310-391-2245

Tom Martin U.S. Forest Service, 703-605-0845

Scott Cameron U.S. Department of Interior, 202-208-173


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