Aberdeen private contract repealed; Government workers found able to do same jobs for less


A decision this year by Aberdeen Proving Ground to allow a private company to cut government jobs and hire its own work force -- which would could have led to the loss of 558 jobs at the Harford County base -- has been overturned on appeal.

An Army-wide effort to save costs by privatizing services had prompted the Aberdeen Proving Ground to award a contract in May to a private company, Aberdeen Technical Services, which had outbid the Army for building and grounds maintenance, environmental and safety operations, child care and recreational activities, such as movie theaters and sports programs.

Those services had been provided by 558 of the total 7,200 nonmilitary government workers employed at Aberdeen.

Some of the employees as well as their union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, appealed the decision, claiming that the private company's cost estimates were inaccurate. Upon review, Army officials found that government workers could perform their duties for nearly $1.8 million less per year than the private company.

The Army has rescinded its contract with the private company and will award the contract to its own workers. The decision was announced Tuesday by Aberdeen Proving Ground officials. Although defense budget cuts and the continued effects of the end of the Cold War have led to a slow decline in employment at the proving ground during the past decade -- from 14,800 civilian and military jobs to 10,800 -- the military base remains Harford County's largest employer. County officials said yesterday they were thrilled with the Army's decision to protect those jobs.

Harford County Executive James M. Harkins said he was "elated and relieved."

"We have been good neighbors for many years, and this announcement makes the partnership between Harford County and APG even stronger," Harkins said.

In the Army's latest cost-cutting effort, Commercial Activities, in which Army bases bid against private companies for the right to perform services long done in-house. If the private company can do the job for less, it gets the contract.

In April, the Army outbid private contractors for the right to continue operating APG's information services, which includes computers, community activities and public affairs. But in May, the Army lost out to Aberdeen Technical Services for the maintenance, environmental, child care and recreational services.

The company had planned to take over in the fall, and the 558 government workers would have been relocated or fired as the company slashed the number of jobs and then replaced government workers with its employees. Government employees would have been offered help in finding other jobs with other Department of Defense operations at the sprawling base on the Chesapeake Bay. Others would have been offered early retirement or voluntary-separation bonuses.

But Ralph Cardenuto, APG's Commercial Activities Study Team chief, warned that the fight over those jobs is not over. Awarding the contract back to government employees could lead to litigation from private contractors who oppose the Army's decision, he said.

Pub Date: 9/16/99

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