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By Phil Piemonte

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Contractors in top secret programs may pose a major challenge for insourcing proponents

The explosive series of news articles currently running in The Washington Post—“Top Secret America”—is bound to add weight to the case against outsourcing.

According to the reports (based on a two-year investigation by the newspaper), of the 854,000 Americans with top secret clearances working for government, 31 percent—or 265,000 individuals—are contractors.

And while those contractors are not supposed to perform “inherently governmental functions,” the paper said its investigation showed that “they do, all the time and in every intelligence and counterterrorism agency.”

In fact, the paper said that contractors now are so woven into the fabric of intelligence, security and counterterrorism agencies—often at cost significantly above what it would cost to use federal employees—that many of their programs simply could not function without those contractors.

The Post report is bound to fire up the anti-outsourcing fervor of labor groups, which have found the Obama administration sympathetic to their concerns. But even though the administration has stated its intention to bring more federal work back in house, we suspect that disentangling contractors from these top secret operations will make its insourcing efforts elsewhere in the federal government look like child’s play.

Posted by Phil Piemonte on Jul 20, 2010 at 12:13 PM

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Reader comments

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 Lavera Floyd Dayton Ohio

In my professional opinion I believe that the increase in the amount of contractors during government jobs was a slap in the face to African Americans or Blacks. I believe that contractors are doing jobs that should be done by government employees; additionally, it fills the few positions that could have resulted in a promotion and experience for minorities. It is no secret that Blacks or African American government employees are discriminated against more today than ever before – and the federal government workforce lacks diversity in every aspect of their workforce; greater in higher grades and management positions. Nothing has been done to correct this disparate treatment. President Obama was misinformed when he first launched the activity for the contractor positions to be converted to civilian positions. He did not know that – or he did not care – that these positions, i.e., contractor positions were basically for white employees. Normally the only black employees that get contractor positions are (1) a few over qualified clerical or administrator positions and (2) retired military Blacks. If this is not true I challenge anyone to look at the facts (facts would be the approximate 98% of white government employees converted to civilians within the past 2-years vs. about .05% for Blacks) and negate it. Contractor’s position still remains a result of the good-old-boys network; Blacks are virtually excluded from being hired by a contractor and the conversion, i.e., contractor to civilian -- except for the above or maybe 2-exceptions. This is not new; it has been the case since I started working for the Federal governnment about 30-years ago. Why doesn't the Washington Post print this?

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 Mikey in VA United States

Like anything else, contracting out itself is not inherently bad. I needs to be managed to leverage the expertise while providing a balance that will develop the government work force for the future. I imagine many opposed to contracting out aren't in a position to "double dip" themselves and resent those who do. On the other hand, on balance you get what you pay for. In those instances where friends hired friends who actually are not qualified or cannot provide the expertise the government thinks it is hiring, that should be reported to the organization's internal control authority; e.g., the inspector general or equivalent. For every retiree that is replaced, the government is still paying the retiree's pension and the salary of his/her replacement. Seems some folks have a problem when the replacement is a contractor who retired from government service after serving the requisite years to qualify for retirement. The retiree is entitled to the pension he/she has earned. If they have expertise and labor the government needs and is willing to hire, where is the inequity? Retirees who work past retirement age and service requirements are actually working for less money each year they postpone retirement.

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 Ana Curtis Washingotn, DC

Is anything being done to correct the Heritage Association's so-called "study" that concluded that Government employees are paid more highly than "equivalent" private sector employees? It is my understanding that the standard they used to determine equivalency may only have gone so far as work titles but did not take the years of work experience, or (agency) subject matter expertise into account.

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 The Centurian

Many times the FEDS can't provide skilled talent for a tasking, thus outsourcing just makes sense. The cost to maintain every technical capability is not advantageous to Uncle Sam. On occasions the salary for the contracted employee may seem costly, but most high level government positions are competitive with the contracted workforce. I for one don't want my security threatened because of a stupid salary dispute!

Wed, Jul 21, 2010

There are more contractors working in my division that civilians. We have a job opening for GS-13 and the contractors that can do the job will not apply for the position because they make to much money as contractors to convert to civil service.

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