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Why outsourcing IT expertise could be a big mistake

Guest entry by Federal Computer Week Editor-In-Chief John Monroe

As tempting as it sounds, federal agencies cannot afford – literally – to rely on contractors for technology innovation, at least according to one contractor.

In a recent blog post, we noted that we had received numerous reader comments in recent months that suggested that federal agencies could not afford to compete with the private sector for cream-of-the-crop IT talent.

This raises the question of whether or not agencies would be better off to stop trying to compete and simply rely on contractors to fill the gap.

But that would be a costly mistake, the contractor replied.

“Being a contractor, it's odd for me to say this, but bringing in more contractors is totally the wrong thing to do,” wrote the anonymous contractor. “They cost [twice as much as a] government employee, they generally are beholden to their company first, and the customer is generally an afterthought.”

Rather than ponying up that money for contractors who come and go, agencies would be better off getting serious about hiring IT talent – and about paying for it, the reader said.

Posted on Apr 19, 2011 at 12:18 PM


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Reader comments

Thu, Jul 21, 2011 atlanta

I am a contractor working in a government department. I hate it. I absolutely dread not knowing how long before my contract will end. Thinking about moving to a full-time position elsewhere is always omnipresent. Unfortunately, the market for full-time positions is tough. I've already developed 3 web apps and have revamped another one within a year. Have been told that a conversion to full-time is possible, but so far it has not happened. If I leave, all that knowledge will be lost. Such a waste.

Tue, May 10, 2011

History has shown that it is a big mistake not to maintain a stable contracting base. What career path is there for technical talent in government? Public sector CIOs come and go, and CTO positions are largely absent. Bigger government and an unfounded fear of insourcing hinder the private sector's ability to create jobs. Industry, not government, drives true job creation.

Wed, May 4, 2011 Noah Nason Washington DC

IT changes a light speed. For example: 3 years ago IT was about SOA. Today IT is about cloud computing and virtualization. Often the first thing that gets cut in tight budgets is training. No training to keep Federal IT workers current, then no understanding of the technology. No understanding, no innovation. The issue is Federal IT workers can be “qualified” to do their jobs without having to be certified so it is makes it easy to let training funds suffer. I know IT organizations that have had zero IT training dollars since 2003. Point being contractors have to keep their technical expertise high or they don’t get hired. So in many cases we Federal managers can only get technical expertise if we go to contractors. Don’t get me wrong, Federal workers can be just as technical and hard working as a contractor but we have to keep them current technically. Until the Federal Government makes 40 hours/year of technical training mandatory and provides the funds to back this up, the Federal workforce at least in IT will never be technical enough.

Tue, May 3, 2011 Been there, seen that

A note to Fair Comparison: I've heard all of your arguments before, and to a point I agree with them. However, there is a reality that is seriously overlooked in that arguement. And that has to do with stability in the work force. If you say that leaving just the program management to the government and contracting out the work is the option, you have a serious security problem on your hands. How do you hand off security controls effectivley when you change the people doing the job in a more frequent time frame? I will tell you from experience and first hand knowledge, contractors hate the idea that they don't know from contract time to contract time if they have a job or not. This causes internal problems, they are always looking for a more stable job, and everybody is impacted one way or another with the instability that contracting brings with it. That instability is a security risk that has serious consequences that can follow. Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it.

Tue, May 3, 2011 CyberSamuri

Fair Comparison stated "the biggest advantage the gov't gets is innovation and flexibility". Obviously this person never worked in contracting. There is no flexibility, you work to the "letter" of the contract. If the gov't wants a change, the contract is modified and the gov't still pays for the original work request whether the task was completed or not and then pays additional monies for the changes. As far as innovation, I haven't seen an orginal idea in a contract proposal, the contractor's proposal is the same as their other proposals. That's how they make their profit.

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