GAO on Outsourcing at Forest Service

February 22, 2008
11:33 AM
The Government Accountability Office has issued a report detailing major problems with the Administration’s plans to outsource Forest Service jobs. The initiative, called “competitive sourcing,” seeks to use private contractors to take over up to 24,000 Forest Service (USFS) jobs -- two-thirds of the entire workforce.
As a result of investigations, Congress in 2004 strictly limited the amount of money that the USFS was allowed to spend on the program.  But the GAO found that the Administration excluded substantial costs that should have been considered.  In addition, the Forest Service failed to track its costs, making it impossible for them — or anyone else — to know whether the USFS violated the Federal law.  (The Forest Service’s own lawyers agreed, admitting to the GAO that the Forest Service may have violated the law repeatedly since 2004.)
In 2005, Congress passed an amendment by Chairman Bingaman mandating that the USFS identify whether individuals whose jobs were considered for outsourcing were qualified to fight wildfires, and to consider the affect of the outsourcing initiative on the Forest Service’s ability to fight wildfires.  However, the GAO found that the Forest Service failed to identify those individuals and never developed a strategy to consider the impact of outsourcing on wildfire fighting.  As a result, the GAO found that the program could reduce the nation’s ability to fight wildland fires and respond to emergencies.
In addition, the GAO investigation revealed that Forest Service’s claims to Congress that the program was saving money could not be substantiated.  In fact, in a number of cases, the costs of carrying out the program far outweighed even the unsubstantiated claims of savings.
Sen. Bingaman: “This mismanagement and its potential to waste tax dollars and negatively impact our nation’s ability to fight wildland fires is very troubling.  I look forward to working with Sen. Wyden as we look into this further.”
Sen. Wyden “I’m troubled by the Government Accountability Office’s findings that the Forest Service has been skirting the law to outsource jobs through a strategy that leaves our citizens at greater risk from wildfires and other dangers.  I’m determined to look into this further, and the Committee will hold a hearing soon to find out how this happened.”
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