Punch-out: Contractors vs. feds

Government contractors and federal employees square off on the issue of federal staffing

President Barack Obama has raised a ruckus among FCW readers with his proposal to save $900 million in fiscal 2010 by converting 33,500 defense contractor jobs to federal positions (see story, Page 10). As might be expected, contractors and feds see the issue in starkly differently terms. Here is an aggregated summary of each position, with the words and sentiments drawn from reader comments.

CONTRACTORS:

President Obama better check his math.

Consider this: As contractors, we work 2,080 hours a year, and the government does not have to pay for benefits, holidays, vacations, breaks with pay, or even lunch. We pay everything out of our pockets. In fact, if you figure in the long-term benefits, many feds actually make more than contractors who have a higher base salary.

Here’s another equation the Obama team should study: Government employees with full benefits gets 432 hours off with pay per year. That means you would need to hire more than 40,000 feds to get the same work hours you got from the 33,500 contractors.

But it’s not just about the money. I don’t think Obama gets what contractors do for the government.

In an ideal world, government workers, as subject-matter experts, would produce as much or more than contractors. But anyone who has worked in the government knows it isn’t that way. Contract employees work harder, walk faster and accomplish more than the government workers.

The difference is most apparent in the afternoon. When 3:30 rolls around, feds are gone in a puff of smoke, leaving things until the next day. As a contractor, I usually put in more daily hours than my government counterpart, and no, I don’t get paid overtime.

I always hear things like, "It'll be there tomorrow" and "Good enough or close enough for government work." The best one is, "I'm a GS, it'll take an act of Congress to get rid of me.” Federal employees seem to get comfortable with the fact that there is almost nothing they can do to get themselves fired, while contractors can be let go at any time.
 
Converting contractor jobs to in-house positions is not the answer to ineffective government. Getting rid of non-performing feds is.

FEDS:

This is a long-overdue initiative to modestly correct the hollowing out of the government workforce.

It’s a problem particularly in acquisition and other areas that are close to being inherently governmental. I see wasted direction and effort in some organizations because there are so many contractors making what should be government decisions. I’ve even seen fighting among in-house contractors looking to increase their company’s share!

The idea of mandating limits on the percentage of contractors in the workforce, as some people have suggested, misses the mark. But we could save ourselves a lot of trouble by evaluating which positions should be contracted out and which should be kept in house.

We could also save a lot of money. Contractors who argue they actually cost less over the course of 2,080 hours are misinformed. Contract rates are often one and a half to two and a half times the actual cost of an equivalent government employee. That is one reason why contractors should be used only for work that is short term and highly specialized.

Another reason is that contractors have a high turnover rate, which is a problem especially in work that requires substantial on-the-job training. We feds might be ineffective, incompetent and wasteful, but we still retain the corporate knowledge needed to train the contractors spinning through the revolving door.

Here’s one more thing a lot of people fail to realize: As a federal employee, I do things because of loyalty that go way beyond my job description. Contractors, on the other hand, won’t move an inch unless it specifically states it in the contract to go an inch. If going 1.5 inches makes things better, well, a whole lot of negotiations have to occur first. Where are the savings there?

Contracting out for some government services has grown out of control. It is time for a reality check.

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Reader comments

Wed, Jan 18, 2012

I find it so ironic that the GS worker in the next cubicle spend her time between patients on the computer surfing the web, instead of helping out around the clinic. The GS workers I know are the ones that won't do anything beyond what is absolutely required of them. They come in at the VERY last possible minute, make sure that evryone knows if they happen to work over into their luch hour, and most definitely take fulol advantage of the "59" minute rule. Heaven help the contractor that walks in 5 minutes late one day out of the YEAR due to traffic....and I'm not joking!

Wed, Oct 13, 2010

I am a career fed of 27 year and have noticed that the government is full of contractors that have little or no respect for career federal workers that do work hard and have climbed the ranks of the government. In the IT field most of the contractors are non-US residences and I have personally been asked by them ‘how can they become Federal Employees once they receive their US citizenship’. They enter the federal force after being a contractor at higher grades not having the organizational knowledge of the federal work place, nor having to climb the ranks from the bottom up. In lots of cases they are hired by ex-contractors. Once retired the individuals will take their US earned pension to their homeland removing the money from the US economy. Contractors’ steals Federal Jobs from federal workers who have worked their way up the career ladder; Feds deserve more loyalty from their government employer.

Sat, Aug 7, 2010

I take offense at the comment the the federal worker works because of a duty beyond what a contract employee has. I am a contract employee and I GET PAID for 40 hours per week, even though I WORK 50+ hours per week. I do this because I am a dedicated employee. I do this because I understand my role in making sure missions are completed on schedule with safety the utmost priority. Shame on your for challenging any person's dedciation to job and country.

Wed, Nov 18, 2009 Ben Washington, DC

My main concern with the hiring of coontractors in IT is that, in many cases, they (potentially) have access to personally identifiable information on thousands of Federal employees. Depending on the department/agency, possible information on National security. These contractors are given access rights equal to actual Federal IT professionals without the assurance of a job tomorrow; in some cases no insurance or any other perks to help keep them honest. Yeah, they're all honest with country and mission first and foremost on their minds. Right. 432 hours off with pay per year? That's almost 11 weeks. Where do you get this garbage?

Fri, Sep 4, 2009 Tac Washington, DC

This whole thing smacks of a straw man argument, an us vs. them created by *politicians*. There isnt a problem to solve here, and the Obama administration has created a false problem to solve: too many contractors! If the issue is cost, the solution is not to treat people as replacable commodities. One human being does not equal another, so whatever someone is a GS, SES, SLS, Contractor or whatever the only thing that matters is do they get the job done. We as professionals serving the government need to stand up for our friends in the commercial sector and not let the politicians make them into scapegoats for their poor planning, poor budgeting and all around pandering for votes. We all work hard and we don't need this kind of "us vs. them" nonsense driving us apart. Shame on this administration.

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