WANT TO KNOW WHAT WORK YOUR AGENCY HAS CONTRACTED OUT-OR WILL?
FLRA has made it very clear that while unions cannot negotiate over an agency’s substantive decision to contract out work, they can negotiate over impact and implementation issues. (See NAGE, 61 FLRA 593 (2006)). They can also pursue a ULP remedy if an agency unilaterally contracts out unit employees’ work without notice and bargaining out (See IFPTE, 64 FLRA 508 (2010)) or even denies information the union needs to represent members (See PASS, 65 FLRA 950 (2011)). But all of those rights mean very little if unions do not know how to find out what work their employer has contracted out or is about to contract out. LR rarely tells unions because even it knows virtually nothing about contracting out. Here is how to get the information you need right off the web, thereby avoiding reliance on the kindness of the LR, procurement, and FOIA shops.
Pending Contracting Out Work
FedBizOps.gov is a database that publishes considerable data about what work agencies are attempting to contract out. It enables you to search by state, type of transaction, and federal agency. For example, if you merely type the word “Treasury” in the search box labelled “Agency,” the web site will pop up the nine individual components of the Treasury Department. If you pick IRS, as of the day we are writing it the web site listed 45 IRS contracting out and similar efforts over the last 90 days. In the IRS case, it appears that a lot of the information technology work is done by contractors. Given that IT unit employees generally do not join unions throughout the government, it seems that there is a good issue to organize them around sitting in this database.
Now search on the “Securities and Exchange Commission.” Once you do you will see that on September 15, 2014 the agency called for input on establishing a 401(a) defined contribution retirement plan for its employees. We assume the employees’ union already knows the details of the agency’s plan, but if not this would be very important information for it. Similarly, on the same day SEC initiated an effort to acquire an on-line training program for 6,000 employees on the NOFear Act. That kind of information could give the union a heads up about agency plans long, long before LR and the agency’s Counsel staff plan to tell the union anything.
Currently Contracted Out Work
The Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) web page provides data on contracts and similar expenditures already underway. Enter into the search box your agency’s name. For purposes of following along with the rest of this article, enter “Securities and Exchange Commission” and hit your enter key. That should generate data on all the outside expenditures SEC has undertaken for several years. As we write this, it is showing over 18,500 acquisitions. Among the most recent are contracts for “Accounting Services” and “Temporary Help,” both of which seem to involve tasks that could be done by unit employees of the SEC. Another expenditure dated September 19, 2014 was made to the Broadwoven Fabric Finishing Mills. Call us paranoid, but that sounds like someone is getting new rugs or curtains at a time when government resources are tight. The union might want to look into just what that is about, e.g., perhaps one office is getting treated better than another.
Unfortunately, the site does not link to the actual contract signed. But it lists two codes that will help you clarify what kind of work is being done under the contract. The first is the NAICS code and the second the PSC code. The two hyperlinks we have provided will help you get a better idea of what information each provides.
Another code of value is the Award ID Number. Click on the parenthetical word “view” next to the number and you will get more information about the vendor. Or, take the number itself to Google and you can sometimes find more data about the contract. A copy of the contract should be available to the union either through a particularized need request or an FOIA inquiry. Don’t let the agency tell you it is proprietary information because the FPDS site generally lists the agreed upon cost of the contract.
Another source for expenditures already committed is USASpending.gov. At first glance it does not appear to provide as much information as the FPDS page, but click on the various hyperlinks and you can get some additional helpful information. We clicked on one SEC contract and saw that the private vendor had provided the government, not just SEC, over $114,000,000 in labor services. That might be a good bases for inquiring about just what labor versus material or equipment the contractor provided SEC or whichever agency it worked with.
USASpending.gov also provides a helpful lists of expenditures by agency and category of expenditure.
Some agencies, such as DOD, have their own database of information.
Generally, national union leaders are not doing much on the contracting out issue other than opposing the program generally. That is important, but reality is that it will continue for the foreseeable future at various levels of spending. Unions need to exploit the enormous amount of contract data out there if they want to actually protect members through the ULP, bargaining and grievance tools they are so good with.