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Depot to study privatization of jobs

November 30, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Base operations involving 358 support personnel at Letterkenny Army Depot could be privatized as a result of a study ordered by the Department of the Army.

"They either will be Army jobs or they will be privatized. The process is not to make all the jobs go away," depot spokesman Alan Loessy said.

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The depot received notification from the Army last Wednesday that it must conduct the study over the next 21 months to determine if base operations "should be performed under contract with commercial sources or in-house using Government facilities and personnel," according to a news release from the depot.

"It's driven by the Quadrennial Defense Review. These studies are being done nationwide," Loessy said. A similar cost comparison study was ordered several weeks ago for the depot's ammunition demilitarization operation.

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That involves 19 federal employees whose task it is to blow up about 4,000 tons of obsolete and unstable ammunition each year.

Loessy said base operations that could be affected include security, the Directorate of Contracting, the Public Works Center, information management and the depot's budget office.

"These are people who are not mission-direct," Loessy said. In other words, they provide indirect support for the depot's missions, which include missile maintenance and ammunition storage and shipment.

"We go into this very optimistically. We've been running a very competitive operation," Loessy said of the Letterkenny Army Depot Cost Comparison Study. Loessy said about half the time, the studies conclude that the government is the most efficient organization.

He said the depot over the years has become used to competing with other military installations and private contractors to maintain its mission workloads.

An independent consulting firm will do the study, which is scheduled to be completed in 2000. A decision on whether to switch to a private contractor will be made "only if the solicitation of commercial bids indicates that contracting out is more cost effective," according to the release.

Loessy said contractors would "bid for the whole base ops, not just pieces of it."

Whether base operations remain in depot hands or are contracted out, the study must result in savings of 20 percent or more. Loessy did not have budget figures for base operations Sunday.

Employees that may be displaced would be given the right of first refusal on job opportunities with a contractor, or assistance through the Priority Placement Program for other positions in the Department of Defense and other federal agencies.

Once Franklin County's largest employer, the depot and its tenant activities employ about 2,500 people. That's about half the workforce of a decade ago.

Downsizing accelerated with the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure Commission decision to transfer some missions to other depots. That process will be completed in 2000.

The 19,000-acre depot is shrinking physically, also. Earlier this month, the Army gave 234 acres to the Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority. The authority will eventually get 1,500 acres for development as an industrial and business park.

The authority also has agreements in the works to take over the depot's sewer, water and electrical systems.

While those fall under public works, Loessy said that category also includes federal employees who do carpentry, plumbing, road maintenance and snow removal, among other tasks.

He said depot firefighters will not be affected by the study, nor will personnel center employees, who are part of a separate consolidation.

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