Senators to DOD: Use more of your own employees

Lawmakers urge DOD to avoid placing caps on department employees that contractors don't have to also abide by.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta received a letter from 26 senators April 25 who urged him to use more civilian employees instead of contractors.

The senators, led by Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), wrote that they understand the need to cut back on civilian employees because of tightened budgets. However, they raised concerns that the private sector wasn’t given similar constraints.

They recommended eliminating “the arbitrary cap on the civilian workforce” or provide a waiver for hiring.

“If there is work to be done and the funding to pay for that work, managers should not be arbitrarily prevented from using civilian employees,” they wrote. Officials should decide who will do commercial jobs on the basis of cost. Officials should also lift the cap on the civilian workforce so that decisions can be based on merit, rather than constraints.

In addition, the senators said they expect defense officials to use a Total Force Management approach so DOD makes decisions based on a holistic view of its military, civilian, and contractor workforce.

The senators want to avoid an incentive for federal managers to opt for contracting companies rather than civilian employees “when the latter costs less.” There has been an ongoing debate over who costs less: contractors or federal employees. Each side has their own figures and data.

One industry group replied in a letter April 30 to the senators, taking on their statements about the costs of contractors.

Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, wrote that his organization doesn’t support arbitrary caps on federal employees any more than on contractors. In fact, agencies need flexibility to manage their personnel and resources.

In some areas, the government needs to build up its workforce numbers and skills. But it may be necessary to increase contractor support for certain other areas, such as some mission-critical functions requiring high-end skills that the government cannot do as economically as contractors.

“In these cases, the companies provide the critical conduit to those skills. Unfortunately, your letter does not recognize this balance,” he wrote to the senators.

The senators emphasized the importance of cost comparisons. Defense officials must compare costs when making outsourcing decisions. Law requires those comparisons if officials decide to send work to a contractor that federal employees have done in the past.

They also want prohibitions on outsourcing of inherently governmental work, or jobs only a federal employee can do. They told officials to conduct their inventories on services contracts.

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