(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today on the Senate floor, Sen. Patty Murray delivered the following statement in support of the Reid amendment on “competitive sourcing.” Competitive sourcing is a Bush Administration effort to replace dedicated National Park Service employees with low-bid, 9-to-5 contract employees.
Senator Murray’s statement follows:
“Mr. President, I rise today in support of the amendment offered by Senator Reid that would temporarily bar the Department of Interior from spending any more money on competitive sourcing studies.
Mr. President, this amendment is really critical so we can assure that people who visit our National Parks are not subjected to fewer services. The Parks are already over-stressed. The House has already inserted this language into its Interior spending bill, and I urge the Senate to do the same.
“Competitive sourcing” is a new term that has been created to describe the opening up of public sector jobs to private sector competition. Now, we’ve all been told competitive sourcing is not the same as “outsourcing,” but I think it’s safe to say that it’s not a whole lot different.
As we all know, one of the primary goals of this administration has been to privatize large numbers of federal workers. This administration, under its initial outsourcing policy, mandated each Federal agency to review for privatization no less than fifteen percent of its “commercial activities” by the end of fiscal year 2003. Unfortunately, this onerous and apparently arbitrary privatization quota did not take into account the different agencies unique conditions.
After considerable pressure from Federal workers, environmentalists, and labor groups, the White House finally abandoned its original blanket competitive sourcing scheme. But now, the initial plan has been replaced by a new plan that actually pushes for more outsourcing, not less.
Although there is no concrete timeline, this new “incentive-based plan” encourages Federal agencies to outsource 50 percent or more of their commercial activities. While here in Congress we are working to slow down the outsourcing drive, the Administration is working to speed it up.
So what does that mean for an agency like the National Park Service? Well Mr. President, I am very concerned the President’s outsourcing policy may well cause critically needed maintenance funds to be spent on further studies for competitive sourcing.
In my home state of Washington, we are very concerned about the reports that Mount Rainier National Park for instance could possibly have to divert up to 40 percent of its repair budget due to outsourcing and anti-terrorism requirements.
When faced with this possibility, the National Park Service Director promised that at Mount Rainier, no more outsourcing studies will be conducted using ’03 and ’04 dollars. While this respite comes as a relief to Mount Rainier National Park and the surrounding communities, everyone is asking, what about Olympic National Park, Cascade National Park – national treasures that are in my home state – and all the other National Parks across the country that remain vulnerable?
Outsourcing is by no means a new policy for the Department of Interior, especially in the National Park Service. The Park Service currently outsources nearly two billion dollars in services, including $818 million in concessions and $1.158 billion for contractors.
These contractors provide functions such as janitorial services, tree work, garbage pick-up, construction, and management consulting. So when the Department of Interior is now told to outsource up to fifty percent of its commercial responsibilities, we are all very concerned that some of the National Park Service’s ‘key functions’ will be threatened. The Park Service was initially created to preserve the natural and cultural resources of the Park System and provide recreational opportunities for generations of Americans. The last thing we should do is lessen the agency’s ability to do that.
Mr. President, the amendment now before the Senate by the Senator from Nevada will not completely stop all outsourcing efforts. It will simply slow them down. And I believe that is the right thing to do.
So far, in the case of the Department of Interior, OMB’s outsourcing initiative has been on the fast track. The Reid amendment will simply prevent funds from this year from being used to initiate any new studies for “competitive sourcing.” It will however still allow the studies initiated with money from the last two years to be completed.
Slowing down this outsourcing initiative will allow Congress to have the time to analyze the costs and implications of this administration’s proposal -- something that should have happened in the first place.
Mr. President, the National Park Service is truly a mission-driven organization. Its core responsibilities include promoting the highest level of environmental stewardship, and in turn, providing the best possible service to each and every park visitor. So far, the Park Service has done a tremendous job of doing that.
Consistently, 97 percent of park visitors have indicated that they are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their national park experience. A great deal of this public regard is attributed to the high quality and morale of our Park Service employees.
Historically, National Park Service workers have maintained an extremely high level of camaraderie and positive spirit. Often these wonderful employees are called on to perform multiple duties that fall outside of any one particular job title.
It is not uncommon for a maintenance worker to give interpretive talks on the weekends, or a park geologist to perform first aid when its necessary, or a visitor assistant to help in fighting forest fires.
This overlap is made possible because of the way in which Park Service employees are cross-trained and because of the workers’ extraordinary commitment to their jobs. In my opinion, having these kinds of outcomes with nine to five contract workers would be very unlikely.
All of the implications of the President’s policy of outsourcing in the National Park Service are not yet understood or known by those who use the parks or those in Congress about to pass this legislation. Congress has yet to carefully consider the consequences of this policy, especially when it comes to the services we expect for our families who visit our National Parks.
So Mr. President, I urge the Senate to follow the House and slow down the President’s outsourcing policy and protect the core mission of the National Park Service by voting for the Reid amendment.