Study: Contractors outnumber feds 4-to-1

Report: The True Size of Government

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The number of contractor employees working on federal projects is growing fast and now exceeds the number of agency employees by fourfold, according to a report by New York University professor Paul Light. According to the report, the army of contractors totaled 7.6 million in 2005, compared with the 1.9 million members of the civilian agency workforce.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the report has serious implications for taxpayers.

“Runaway federal contracting is a shell game, masking the true costs of government to America’s taxpayers and handing the important work of the government to a less accountable workforce,” she said in a written statement issued today.

However, Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, disputed the findings. The modeling system measures both direct and indirect contractor support, exaggerating the results.

Light acknowledges that weakness of his estimate in the report. "They tend to overestimate the contract- and grant-generated workforce, but they are the best available tool for measuring what I call the 'true size of government,'" he wrote.

Soloway said the notion that contractor employees outnumber federal employees 4-to-1 is "a mathematical impossibility. Today, it costs some $180 billion or more to pay for the federal workforce. We spend just over $200 billion on service contracts, which is where the contractor displacement NTEU cites comes from. It is simply not possible that for only slightly more money the government is paying to support four times as many contractor employees as civil servants."

That is especially true given the gap between private-sector and government pay that the unions have identified, Soloway added.

"Has the role of contractors grown as the government has faced growing shortfalls in both numbers and skill sets? Absolutely," he said. "The government today functions through a growing and critical mix of both government and contractor employees. This is the government of the future, as well. But it is nowhere near as out of alignment as some have suggested."

Kelley also criticized what she believes is the Bush administration's desire to hand over what should be inherently governmental work to contractors.

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