Public servants may go the way of the dodo

  President Bush wants to privatize 425,000 federal jobs, one-quarter of the nation's positions that are product or service-oriented in nature. Workers who exercise discretion, set policies and budgets, or perform other duties that are "inherently governmental" are immune from the process, for the time being.


Does this sound good for private enterprise? Sure, for some aggressive entrepreneurs. Will it save taxpayers money? I doubt it. Could it undermine morale in government, undercut unions and add to the roll call of American workers without medical insurance? You bet it will.


Will it make our country more susceptible to terrorist attacks by allowing masses of contract and temporary workers access to government offices, computers and files? Quite possibly.


But for land-management agencies, especially the U.S. Forest Service, an even darker apparition looms on the horizon.


"The administration doesn't want anyone overseeing the timber industry or environmental policies," Bill Kilroy, a vice president with Local 60 of the National Federation of Federal Employees, explained to me. "They view current Forest Service employees as a hindrance to what they want to do."


This winter, the Forest Service is studying 3,035 jobs -- roughly 7 percent of its 40,000-strong workforce -- that could be taken over by private contractors. The agency has classified 20,229 jobs as "commercial inventory" and eligible for what agency officials refer to as "competitive sourcing."


The jobs now up for study include approximately 1,700 positions in building, ground, road and fleet maintenance; 500 jobs in information technology infrastructure, including IBM system operation, telecommunications and related software; 150 computer support positions; the entire 65-member Content Analysis Team; plus 620 temporary positions.


That's only the start. An internal agency memo designed to educate managers about the process noted that "competitive sourcing is a process that will be used to study virtually all activities, over time, in the Forest Service."


Other land management agencies are also conducting the same competitive sourcing drill. The Bureau of Land Management, which employs about 10,000 workers, is studying about 1,250 positions, with another 1,250 positions to be studied later. The National Park Service is studying 10 percent of its 20,000 positions, including employees at the Denver Service Center -- which develops the service's environmental impact statements.


Another affected agency that has an impact on public and private lands is the Army Corps of Engineers. That outfit oversees hundreds of flood-control and river navigation projects across the country. Privatization programs could affect up to 32,500 military and civilian employees of the Corps of Engineers.


Some officials at the Forest Service say the future of the agency could be at stake. Liz Gupton, an engineering technician and president of Local 60 of the National Federation of Federal Employees, calls past privatization of public service jobs "disasters" -- particularly where the jobs provided oversight of health and environmental laws and resource extraction.


"You could see good logging practices going down the road pretty fast," she said.


Wildlife biologist Rose Leach knows firsthand how a government entity can manipulate the rules by contracting out work. In 2001, while a staff member of the Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation, she refused to sign off on an environmental assessment to log dead timber on a burned hillside. She thought the foresters were too stingy when it came to leaving snags -- dead standing trees -- essential to black-backed woodpeckers and other wildlife.


"They took me off that assignment and hired a contract biologist for $50 an hour who rubber-stamped their plans," said Leach. She eventually left her job with the state to work for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes on the Flathead Reservation. "I know many ethical contractors, but you can shop around for one to tell you what you want to hear," she said.


Is President Bush's plan to save money an ingenious scheme to circumvent environmental safeguards and turn the nation's public lands into industrial zones? It may not be the major thrust of the privatization movement, but it would be surprising if someone in the administration hadn't pointed out the extra benefits to the president.


Mark Matthews is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He is a freelance writer in Missoula, Montana.

High Country News Classifieds
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.