Editorial: A fresh take on contracting

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence made some headlines last week when it published a study showing that contractors made up 27 percent of the National Intelligence Program workforce. Much of the coverage raised the question that prompted Congress to request such reports in the first place: Does the intelligence community rely too much on contractors?

That debate will continue. However, the report ought to prompt another question: How many other agencies could provide such a detailed accounting of their contractor workforce?

It’s not just a matter of knowing the ratio of contractors to government employees. It’s also important to understand what work contractors are doing and why.

In recent years, the debate about outsourcing has focused on differentiating between those jobs that are inherently governmental and those that are not. Although that issue is integral to the Bush administration’s competitive sourcing (now called commercial services management) initiative, it is not a useful management tool.

And that is a critical perspective: The contractor workforce ultimately must be viewed as a management
resource.

In the intelligence community, 56 percent of managers said contractors have unique expertise, according to an ODNI survey of 16 intelligence agencies. Eight percent said they used contractors because of funding uncertainties, and 11 percent said they would hire more government employees if they had more funding. Another 5 percent used contractors to increase staffing levels rapidly, and 3 percent hired contractors for one-time projects.

In contrast, only 10 percent of managers said their rationale was that hiring contractors was more cost-effective than using in-house staff — the basic assumption of competitive sourcing. Clearly, cost-effectiveness is only one of several variables that play into contracting decisions, and it is not necessarily the most important one.

To their credit, ODNI officials defended the size of their contractor workforce by arguing management principles — what makes the most sense in given circumstances — rather than simply relying on policy decisions about which job can be classified as inherently governmental.

Lawmakers and other critics might take issue with that their conclusions, but at least ODNI officials are arguing relevant points and backing them up with concrete data. 

chart

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group