Federal employee Union Fights Contracting out
On March 12, the news was dominated by President Bush’s statement of outrage that the US Immigration and Naturalization Service had issued visas to two of the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) called the INS “the Mickey Mouse Club of federal agencies.” Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) said the mailing of the visas shows “the complete incompetence of the immigration service to enforce our laws and protect our borders.” What the President and Congress didn’t say (and probably didn’t know) was that it wasn’t INS employees who were responsible. It was private contractors, not federal employees, who processed the visas for Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi. INS had contracted out the processing and mailing of the visas to Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services. The INS contract is just one of over 900 contracts that ACS has with 21 federal agencies.
“There are two worlds in the federal workforce,” said American Federation of Government Employees President Bobby Harnage, “the world of unaccountable contractors such as ACS, and the world of dedicated federal employees. And the only Mickey Mouse Club I am aware of are the Goofy’s in Congress who continue to blindly support the privatization of the federal government for campaign contributions...
“Experienced INS workers who have been working 12-hour shifts to fight the war on terrorism should not be wrongly accused for a contractor’s serious error.”
This incident and others like it reflect the Bush Administration’s rush to contract out and privatize the federal government. Whether it is the President’s call to privatize Social Security, his desire to keep airport security in the hands of minimum-wage contract employees, or his arbitrary quotas directing agencies to “compete” or contract out 425,000 civil service jobs in the next four years, the administration is in a headlong rush to turn the government over to low wage, non-union, unaccountable contractors.
The contractors are a Who’s Who of the world’s largest global corporations and political campaign contributors. The shift of federal jobs to private contractors threatens the destruction of the civil service system-where federal employees are hired and promoted based on merit-and a return to a “spoils system,” where corporate political contributors do the work of government.
AFGE has responded to these attacks with a grassroots campaign called “SWAMP”-Stop Wasting America’s Money on Privatization. The campaign attacks privatization at a local, national, and global level. At a local level, AFGE continues to train leaders to fight contracting out at the worksite. The union is consistently successful in negotiating contract protections and using management’s own rules to stop efforts to contract out jobs.
At the national level, AFGE has had legislation introduced to stop wasteful contracting and force government agencies to hold contractors accountable. The legislation is called the Truthfulness, Responsibility and Accountability in Contracting (TRAC) Act (HR721 and S1152). Key elements include:
1. requiring agencies to track the cost and size of the contractor workforce (today no one knows how many contractors work for the government or what they are paid);
2. requiring public-private competition (if government employees can do it better for less, let government workers do it);
3. eliminating arbitrary personnel ceilings (when personnel ceilings are too low, managers contract out to get the work done); and
4. requiring contracting-in (when contractors fail, bring the work back in-house).
The TRAC Act has almost 200 co-sponsors in the House and 20 in the Senate. At a recent Senate hearing on contracting out and the TRAC bill, over 400 AFGE activists from across the country packed the hearing and overflow rooms to send a clear message to the Senators of the importance of the issue to federal workers.
At the global level, AFGE has been working with the AFL-CIO and the Public Service International to challenge the pro-privatization policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. AFGE recognizes that the same corporations that are privatizing our jobs here are destroying public service around the world, and that the fight to stop contracting out will take a coordinated effort in this country and abroad.
For more information on AFGE’s SWAMP campaign, visit www.afge.org/Index.cfm?Page=SWAMP
David Schlein is the national Vice-President AFGE Dist 14.