- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Lawmakers and military officials are calling for an investigation into a $120 million contract at Walter Reed Army Medical Center that will replace hundreds of federal union workers.

“The majority of these employees are veterans themselves,” said Dwight R. Bowman of the American Federation of Government Employees.

A Government Accountability Office ruling Feb. 21 upholds the Army’s contract award to IAP Worldwide Services, although the Army initially determined that using federal, in-house employees would be most feasible.

IAP was awarded the five-year contract in January to provide administrative, managerial and operational support services at the hospital.

The company declined to comment and referred questions to the Army. The Army did not return calls.

IAP originally lost the bid in September 2004 after the Army determined that using federal employees would be less expensive than using employees from the company, then known as Johnson Controls.

After the company filed a protest with the GAO, the Army Audit Agency withdrew its certification of the employees’ bid and required changes that would increase the bid.

Union employees said they were not informed that the bid had been revoked until after IAP was awarded the contract.

Jacqueline Simon, the union’s public policy director, would say only that the union won the bid at $7.5 million, then lost it at $7 million.

Mr. Bowman said he doubted IAP could have submitted a less expensive bid, “but our people never had a chance to adjust.”

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting member of Congress, called for an investigation after talking with the GAO and determining that her questions had not been sufficiently answered.

“The surrounding circumstances warrant an independent investigation,” she said. “The Army should welcome it.”

Mrs. Norton said she would consult with union officials and other members of Congress about investigating the competition, but wouldn’t elaborate.

Mr. Bowman plans to go to Capitol Hill on Monday and Tuesday to support Mrs. Norton’s call for an investigation.

“We’re not going to take this lying down,” he said. “We’re going to fight back politically. It’s about time that unions begin to fight in the public eye for employees.”

In 2003, the federal government opened hundreds of thousands of government jobs to private companies and encouraged competition to replace federal workers.

Democrats and labor unions have criticized the Bush administration’s changes as union-breaking and tinged with political favoritism.

Alan D. King, the medical center’s deputy garrison commander, argued on behalf of more than 300 government employees who have been displaced that the Army’s authority to revoke the union’s bid expired on Sept. 30, 2004.

Officials at Walter Reed declined to comment because the decision is being appealed.

“It’s just a shame that they’ve been treated like this,” Mr. Bowman said. “They competed fairly, and the rules got changed on them.”

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