Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis: 4/13/08 - 4/20/08

Saturday, April 19, 2008

This is the place to be Next Saturday

Paul Pike from "Medicine Dream" will do a few songs for us and Senator Lisa Murkowski will also be in attendance.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Our Federal Outsourcing Experience

In May, the years-long outsourcing process of my husband’s government IT office comes to an end. Of the approximate 34 Federal and contract positions that existed at the time the process began, there are only seven Federal positions and two contract positions left.

Interestingly enough, this really wasn’t an “outsourcing” exercise if you listen to the Bush Administration. My husband’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers IT group went through a nationwide “OMB Circular A-76 process".

(That’s the kind of name the government gives something when they want the general public’s eyes to glaze as they turn to the sports page.)

It begins with a study to supposedly determine what the “MEO” would be (Most Efficient Organization...do you feel your eyes glazing-over yet?). The MEO (employees) were then prepared to bid against the contractors that wanted their jobs. Of course, these contractors (at the time) were allowed to slice their employees benefits to nothing in order to provide the lowest bid. That’s happened in more than one of these “fair competitions.”

However, after years of delays (and tons of attrition and overworked IT folks, since they were not permitted to hire while they waited), the employees "won" against the evil contractor! But wait! It turns out that, on the sly, the MEO leaders quietly partnered with ANOTHER contractor in order to provide the lowest bid!!!!! (Lockheed Martin – they make Halliburton look like amateurs...Lockheed's had not one, not two, but THREE Cheney’s on their board...Dick, Lynn and Liz!!!!) The contractor-who-followed-the-rules (Northrup Grumman - silly contractor) protested, claiming the MEO/contractor partnership was based on the lie of an artificially low bid. The protest lost.

Anyway, that is a very stripped-down description of the process. As I said, there are seven government positions left (most of which pay less than the originals) and two contractor positions (both of which also pay less than their predecessors.)

My husband just accepted one of the only two contractor jobs offered.

Some of the benefits will be good. We’ll finally have decent dental and vision coverage and with a 10-year-old daughter moving into orthodontist territory, that will be very helpful.

However, in many ways this is scary for us. Money-wise, it’s a wash (my husband was a GS-09, not the full GS-11 yet that the position was supposed to be. He would have been a full GS-11 in a few months) as the slight raise in salary will be totally eaten up by losing the tax-free 23% Cost of Living Allowance. What I’ve seen of the insurance so far may mean that we’ll be paying more of my monthly prescription drug bill and while we’re pretty sure there is no “pre-existing condition” clause, we haven’t gotten confirmation on that yet (I’m a diabetic with a heart condition as well as multiple blown discs).

The scariest parts of all: becoming a contractor means that my husband no longer has any whistleblower protections whatsoever. If he refuses to do something that is unethical, they can just fire him on the spot. If his wife’s political writings piss them off, well...

We’re just one more family to lose a few freedoms to the Bush Administration.

So it’s a win-win for politicians beholden to big business. They get to make sure their buddies get contracts and they also get rid of those pesky, mouthy Federal Civilian unionized employees.

A recent GovExec.com article focuses mainly on the shiny, happy spin from the Bush Administration:
According to the administration's most recent annual report on competitive sourcing, published in May 2007, the cumulative estimated net savings from competitions in the past four years is $6.9 billion, the lion's share of which would be realized in the next three to five years. Complex competitions for IT services for the Army Corps of Engineers (won by the employees) and to modernize flight service stations at the Federal Aviation Administration (won by the contractor) are expected to save billions alone.

There are a couple of things to notice – 1) The information is based on "the administration's most recent report, 2) These are not documented savings, these are estimates of future savings “in the next three to five years,” 3) Many experienced employees are warning that the “streamlined” organizations will not work. By the end of the A-76 process, most of these organizations are terribly stripped down due to employee attrition. Employees laugh at how much work has had to be shelved leading up to the take-over of the new organization. All of that work will eventually need to get done as customers realize that their service is non-existent. This will require a flurry of Contract Modifications that add big $$$$ to the contract.

So much for that predicted savings....

There is a light at the end of the tunnel for the those opposing the outsourcing process...it’s dying:
Labor employees aren't the only ones breathing a sigh of relief. The omnibus and fiscal 2008 Defense authorization bills put a halt to public-private competitions, part of the A-76 program, at the Bureau of Prisons, Federal Prison Industries Inc., Army Corps of Engineers, Forest Service, the Coast Guard's National Vessel Documentation Center and for positions related to the Human Resources Lines of Business initiative. As a sign of how much competitive sourcing has slid down the administration's priority list, not a single veto threat was issued in response to the measures - a common tactic when similar restrictions were proposed in past years.

Of course, it deserves to die. What this article seems to skim over is how much of the most high-profile disasters can actually be traced back to an outsourcing or consolidation project gone horribly wrong.

The Walter Reed debacle:
During a Monday hearing to investigate widely publicized problems at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, lawmakers and Army officials placed partial blame on a public-private job competition that sapped the facility of workers, and on uncertainty about the slated closure of the center in the ongoing Base Realignment and Closure process.

Several lawmakers questioned whether it had been a mistake to outsource base operations support through a competition conducted under the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76 rules. The Walter Reed competition began in January 2000 and went through numerous protests and appeals. The contractor selected to perform the work, Cape Canaveral, Fla.-based IAP Worldwide Services, finally took over operations on Feb. 4 of this year.

"We certainly could have done it better, and maybe we shouldn't have done it at all," said Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the head of the Army Medical Command and Walter Reed's commander from 2002 to 2004, in response to a question from Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

What they fail to mention is that through the entire process that started in 2000, no one thought to increase the number of employees in the contract to TAKE THE IRAQ WAR INTO CONSIDERATION!

Food Inspections - Human
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, suggested the inspector general focus on the impact of the inspections on plants from other countries. House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, said he had asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the food inspection process. Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, who noted he also sits on the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, said, "Apparently there are still some unresolved issues about what the heck [the department] is doing."

Under questioning from Agriculture Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Fong acknowledged it was APHIS Administrator Ron DeHaven who made the decision not to conduct further tests on a Texas cow whose initial test for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, was inconclusive. Further tests ordered by the inspector general several months later showed that the cow had the disease.

...And Animal:
Kucinich, whose panel has broad jurisdiction over domestic issues, has written to Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, requesting information on when the agency first discovered harmful toxins in Menu Foods Income Fund pet food.

Menu Foods issued a recall March 16 of dog and cat foods produced in two of their plants after discovering melamine in the wheat gluten used for wet food products. Tests also confirmed the presence of aminopterin, a rat poison. The Menu Foods announcement has led to the recall of 60 million pet food products and the FDA has confirmed at least 15 animal deaths from the incident so far.

The Pentagon has failed to provide adequate oversight of private companies that support American military operations in Iraq, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Because of a shortage of managers on the front lines to oversee contractor support, there is no accountability or assurance that the military is getting the services it has paid for, GAO found. Field commanders told GAO of problems getting needed spare parts and cited maintenance that contractors failed to provide.

Oversight remains a problem despite assurances from recently retired Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the military would comply with a series of recommendations made in earlier GAO reports.

The military's global war on terror has coincided with a massive outsourcing of jobs traditionally performed by uniformed personnel. In Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of private companies provide battlefield support to the troops, supplying them with everything from food and housing to Internet service and intelligence analysis.

While 9,200 contractors supported the 1991 Gulf War, the Army alone estimates that at least 60,000 contractors support combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the new report (GAO-07-145).

The Pentagon does not know how many contractors currently are working in Iraq and living on the American bases that have sprung up around the country, GAO noted.

There is much speculation...and hope...that a Democratic President will stem the tide of outsourcing. However, I don't believe that's true of just ANY Democratic candidate.

While folks have been going on and on about Halliburton...the most powerful contractors are the ones who are able to use that power to stay out of the media.

Article's frequently leave out the most interesting and controversial things...like the article I quoted from GovExec.com on outsourcing left out two things of note:

- They don’t mention that whole Corps of Engineers contractor-partnership with Lockheed Martin when they say "won by the employees"

- They also didn't mention that the winner of the huge FAA fight services contract was...you guessed it...Lockheed Martin.

Between them, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Boeing and Raytheon have Federal outsourcing of technical services mostly locked up. In October 2007, Huffington Post determined that Hillary Clinton was by far the top recipient of their defense money, beating all Democrats and Republicans by far with over $52,000 in contributions.

Plus, Senator Clinton has an extensive history with Lockheed:

Senator Clinton, Lockheed Martin and New Jobs for New York Host Statewide Job and Internship Fair in Syracuse

Hillary’s Friendly Skies: Air Lockheed
According to the senator’s travel-expense forms, unearthed by the Center for Public Integrity, the senator and her aides have taken free rides on a Lockheed-owned private plane at least five times since 2001.

- $5 million for Lockheed Martin Radar Systems- AN/TPS-59 Low Earth Orbit Satellite (LEOS) Tracking

Clinton campaign stops at Lockheed Martin

Interesting how this turned into a plug for Obama, no?

Polar Bear Chases Kaktovik Man

Thanks to KTVA for the great shots!

So this is the only write up this poor guy gets when he's clearly running for his life from a hungry polar bear.

And yes, I can't help but laugh 'cause it's just flat funny!
Of course, I would have probably lost the race - but then again I have a solid diamond willow cane...

I'd have gone for the nose.

Well, I understand it turned out OK for both the man and the bear, so that's great because usually one or the other doesn't fair so well.

However, I seriously wish one thing - that we could substitute the man from Kaktovik for Glenn Beck.

Seriously, that idiot went on and on about how bears eat people and they don't need protection. I'd for someone to mention that to the bear and then I'd like to see how Glen would do up against him.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Woot! I made my deadlines today! Also, why I've not been posting much...

1) Taxes finished and sent through the @#$% mail because the e-filing process in Turbo Tax wouldn't work and no one knew how to fix it.

2) After having the computer lock and lose all of my information twice, I FINALLY was able to register for media credentials as a State Blogger at the Democratic National Convention in Denver! I won't know their answer for a few weeks and if someone more experienced with a more popular blog gets it, I'll be very happy for them! I just wanted to make sure that Alaska was represented...plus since I have friends there on the Committee, I can stay there for cheap!

3) After much screaming, crying, snarling and gnashing of teeth, my 10-year-old FINALLY got her room clean enough to meet the deadline for us to pay for and register her Summer Conservatory at Alaska Theater of Youth. (Today was the half price cutoff - $350.00...*gulp*...yup, normally it is $700.00)

4) The April 26th event "The Gathering" still has a band and a sound man!!!!! I worked out the negotiations today and I'm totally flipping relieved. Now, since the alleged "Committee Chair" went psycho on us, I'm trying to make sure all of the pieces are falling into place...but it's OK!!!! There's great people working on this and together we can pull a rabbit out of a hat!!!!

Besides, as long as we have food and music, life is good!

So, tonight's task is to email a whole bunch of PSAs out to the media. Now that I've had a nap, I'm going to eat, have some serious caffeine and work on that!

Taxes - DONE!!!! E-filing - DENIED!!!!

God, I hate taxes!

This was an exceptionally ugly year in that I am now self-employed, Josh is self-employed on top of his regular job and I pulled my retirement in 2007. For those following at home, that's taxes on two new businesses and retirement with a penalty.

So I of course spent hours on the preparation before I even entered the final info into Turbo Tax...my second love. However, it was fickle today - for some reason it just wouldn't updated from last year so that I couldn't e-file it.

BUGGER ALL...I have to go to the post office tomorrow!

Oh well, Mr. Orangutan says it all.