GAO supports staff cuts at Capitol Power Plant

Staff cuts and the use of less costly fuel at the Capitol Power Plant could save the Architect of the Capitol’s Office (AoC) $7 million in operating expenses, according to a report.

In the report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) advises the AoC to adopt the recommendations of a November 2004 private consulting firm’s analysis, which concluded that by cutting staff from 88 positions to 46, the AoC could save $2.5 million, based on fiscal year 2003 costs. An additional $4.5 million could be saved by increasing the amount of coal burned “relative to other fuels” based on fuel costs at the time.

The report notes that through “workforce planning” many removed Capitol Power Plant employees could be placed with other AoC organizations.

The GAO did not comment on the feasibility of privatizing because of the current expansion of the West Refrigeration Plant. The report concurred with the private consulting firm’s assessment that because of the coordination needed to bring in new equipment for the plant, “outsourcing or privatizing Capitol Power Plant operations before the West Refrigeration Plant Expansion is complete would be difficult.”

However, the report did not rule out the possibility after the project is complete.

Union officials worry that a move to privatize the plant could adversely affect current AoC employees. According to Don Maddrey, legislative-affairs representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, in 2004 the AoC was asked to submit an implementation plan if Congress should decide to privatize the plant.

“If the power plant is privatized, we definitely want the architect to absorb current employees into [other] operations, like the Botanical Gardens or the House or Senate,” Maddrey said.

He added that AFSCME is most concerned with “long-term employees — some in their 17th or 18th year of service — who could lose their pensions.”

In the 2006 legislative-branch Senate appropriations bill, the committee notes that it supports the AoC’s efforts to implement the GAO recommendations, specifically those that relate to streamlining staffing, using the most economically priced boiler fuel and implementing prudent operational and organizational changes.

According to the Consolidated Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2005, before privatizing the plant the AoC must give a description of a plan “to manage the transition to the contractor for the management and operation of the facility, including steps to be taken to mitigate the effect of the contract on the plants existing employees.”

The AoC could not be reached for comment.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) has been a leading proponent of privatizing the power plant and believes that the process could help minimize the cost of the plant, according to a source familiar with the issue. The plant, which used to produce both steam and electricity, now solely produces steam to heat and cool the Capitol campus, Union Station, the Post Office Building and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Electricity for the Capitol was privatized 40 years ago, according to 2004 testimony by Capitol Architect Alan Hantman, Dennis Roth, president of the Congressional Research Employees Association (CREA) Local 75, said that when parts of public organizations are privatized turnover of employees tends to increase more so than those in the public sector.

He also said that privately contracting out government jobs could increase security concerns.

“The [government] staff is well-screened,” Roth said. “A contract employee could do something to sabotage” government operations.

He added that a private contractor could bring a cut in benefits to government employees.

CREA filed a grievance July 5 with the Congressional Research Service for contracting out its mail and not letting the union know — which the union said was a violation of Article 16 in the collective-bargaining agreement with Library of Congress.

“Unions are inherently against contracting out,” Roth said.

During a May 2004 House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Moran said, “I do want to look into the possible privatization of the Capitol Power Plant because, while it has been reliable, it has been very expensive. It is very much outdated.”

Moran, who received $83,250 from labor organizations during his 2004 race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, indicated if the plant should privatize current employees would be offered employment opportunities before new individuals were hired.

The AFL-CIO did not return multiple calls for comment.