Congress to act on workforce shortage

Rep. Moran eyes DOD spending bill as vehicle for acquisition changes

The acquisition workforce may receive some long-awaited help as several senior lawmakers have said the situation desperately needs attention.

Experts say the decline in the acquisition workforce has been a major root of federal procurement problems from the response to Hurricane Katrina to Iraq contracting and the General Services Administration’s previous contracting troubles.

The number of contracting officers is half the number it was in 2001, while the number of contracts has doubled, said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.).

Moran is joining a growing list of lawmakers, who are trying to improve oversight of agency contracting. He wants to increase the number of acquisition employees.

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee, asked Moran to develop workforce provisions to be included in the fiscal 2008 Defense Department spending bill.

Moran declined to elaborate specifically on his additions. But he said he may recommend that GSA’s workforce help DOD with its contracting. GSA and DOD officials are working to smooth DOD’s deep-seated mistrust based on past contract problems.

The government must have more people to do the work intended for public employees, Moran said.

“We have got, as far as I am concerned, to move people from the private sector into the public sector to provide those inherently governmental functions,” he said, adding that such a move would equip agencies with adequate scrutiny of contracts.

The number of agency acquisition professionals nearing retirement age is increasing. Paul Denett, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said he estimates that 20 percent of the 28,000 federal contracting employees are already eligible for retirement.

“A good contracting officer is worth their weight in gold,” said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) during a speech at Federal Sources’ Federal Outlook Conference April 12.

Procurement experts agree that the acquisition workforce needs to grow to handle a greater workload and fill the void from a massive number of retirements. The current situation does not keep good public-sector workers from moving to the private sector to double their income.

Moran cited a 32 percent difference in the amount of pay between private-sector and public-sector salaries. “That’s an untenable situation, and we’ve got to change it,” he said.

Paul Francis, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office, said the composition of the workforce — what skills are necessary to match future needs — is as important as the quantity of workers.

“Numbers don’t tell the whole story,” he said.
The outsourcing debate continuesDemocrats and Republicans in Congress have contrasting views on outsourcing and the government’s reliance on private-sector employees, despite their common workforce concerns.

In speeches last week, Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Tom Davis (R-Va.) said contractors are performing much of the work in Iraq. But the two disagreed on those contractors’ performance.

“Contracting in Iraq is out of control,” Moran said in a speech last week at Federal Sources’ Federal Outlook Conference. “We should not have 126,000 contractors in Iraq today,” he said, adding that contractors are getting paid more than the active-duty military deployed there.

Why are there so many contractors there? “You can’t order a federal employee to go to Iraq and most of them, in their right mind, wouldn’t want to go over there anyway,” Davis said.

Understanding constituencies reveals how the new Congress views government contracting, Davis said. Organized labor is a large Democratic supporter, he said, so that under the new congressional leadership, the government’s use of contractors will decline.

“Outsourcing is the evil behind all of these problems,” Davis said. But he said the business processes, such as reporting and notification requirements and onerous oversight, cause inefficiencies in government.

— Matthew Weigelt

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