Fed Archeology Jobs May Be Buried

A red rocks formation in Canyonlands National Park is shown alongside the Green River southeastern Utah, in this photo taken May 2000. The trip through Canyonlands National Park offers close-ups of the stark red mesas that dominate this part of Utah.
A broad Bush administration push to replace public sector workers with private contractors could send a small but important band of Park Service archeologists digging for new jobs, a newspaper reports.

The administration has ordered all agencies to designate 15 percent of its workforce for outsourcing to private companies, which, the White House believes, can do government work more efficiently. That means the Interior Department must find 5,000 jobs to put up for private bid, most of which will come from its largest employer, the Parks Department.

Critics of the move tell The Washington Post that private sector workers will be hard pressed to fill the shoes left by the Park Service archeologists.

At the two centers in questions — the Midwest Archaeological Center in Lincoln, Neb., and its Southeast Archaeological Center, in Tallahassee — a staff of only 100 workers handles cultural and historical projects at 122 national parks and 780 national historical landmarks in 22 states and two territories.

The work includes protecting Native American burial grounds, tracing Native American migration, and preserving Civil War battlefields.

The archeologists also do work for other agencies. Some say this means they're ideal for a private company to take the work. Donna Kalvels, the Park Service's competitive sourcing coordinator, told The Post: "budget people complain that they are taking work from the private sector."

But critics contend the loss of institutional memory will be a major blow to the Park Service. In addition, critics say, Park Service archeologists have become skilled at navigating the sticky politics and tight budgets that come with the job.

The Park Service has already outsourced 859 new jobs. Now it is turning to positions that already exist. Forty-five jobs are targeted at the Midwest archeological center and 50 at the Southeast one.

Consultants have been working with the staffs to create detailed reports on what the staff do. The Park Service will compare the reports to private sector alternatives, and the cheapest one wins.

It's not clear why the archeological centers were picked for possible outsourcing.

The head of the Southeast Center, John E. Ehrenhard told The Post it didn't make sense because "have been so underfunded and so understaffed for so long, that we've had to learn to be efficient."

When Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Neb., asked the Parks Department to explain the choice, the department replied that archaeology is the "fourth most commercial activity" in the Park Service. The Bush privatization plan calls for outsourcing jobs that are not "inherently governmental."

Recent projects detailed on the Midwest Center's website include 20 years of investigation into the history of the Bois Forte Ojibwe at Voyageurs National Park, work on a historic village at the Garden Coulee site in North Dakota, and surveys of the Little Big Horn battlefield.