Congress to act on workforce shortage

Rep. Moran eyes DOD spending bill as vehicle for acquisition changes

The acquisition workforce may receive some long-awaited help as several senior lawmakers have said the situation desperately needs attention.

Experts say the decline in the acquisition workforce has been a major root of federal procurement problems from the response to Hurricane Katrina to Iraq contracting and the General Services Administration’s previous contracting troubles.

The number of contracting officers is half the number it was in 2001, while the number of contracts has doubled, said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.).

Moran is joining a growing list of lawmakers, who are trying to improve oversight of agency contracting. He wants to increase the number of acquisition employees.

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee, asked Moran to develop workforce provisions to be included in the fiscal 2008 Defense Department spending bill.

Moran declined to elaborate specifically on his additions. But he said he may recommend that GSA’s workforce help DOD with its contracting. GSA and DOD officials are working to smooth DOD’s deep-seated mistrust based on past contract problems.

The government must have more people to do the work intended for public employees, Moran said.

“We have got, as far as I am concerned, to move people from the private sector into the public sector to provide those inherently governmental functions,” he said, adding that such a move would equip agencies with adequate scrutiny of contracts.

The number of agency acquisition professionals nearing retirement age is increasing. Paul Denett, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said he estimates that 20 percent of the 28,000 federal contracting employees are already eligible for retirement.

“A good contracting officer is worth their weight in gold,” said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) during a speech at Federal Sources’ Federal Outlook Conference April 12.

Procurement experts agree that the acquisition workforce needs to grow to handle a greater workload and fill the void from a massive number of retirements. The current situation does not keep good public-sector workers from moving to the private sector to double their income.

Moran cited a 32 percent difference in the amount of pay between private-sector and public-sector salaries. “That’s an untenable situation, and we’ve got to change it,” he said.

Paul Francis, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office, said the composition of the workforce — what skills are necessary to match future needs — is as important as the quantity of workers.

“Numbers don’t tell the whole story,” he said.
The outsourcing debate continuesDemocrats and Republicans in Congress have contrasting views on outsourcing and the government’s reliance on private-sector employees, despite their common workforce concerns.

In speeches last week, Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Tom Davis (R-Va.) said contractors are performing much of the work in Iraq. But the two disagreed on those contractors’ performance.

“Contracting in Iraq is out of control,” Moran said in a speech last week at Federal Sources’ Federal Outlook Conference. “We should not have 126,000 contractors in Iraq today,” he said, adding that contractors are getting paid more than the active-duty military deployed there.

Why are there so many contractors there? “You can’t order a federal employee to go to Iraq and most of them, in their right mind, wouldn’t want to go over there anyway,” Davis said.

Understanding constituencies reveals how the new Congress views government contracting, Davis said. Organized labor is a large Democratic supporter, he said, so that under the new congressional leadership, the government’s use of contractors will decline.

“Outsourcing is the evil behind all of these problems,” Davis said. But he said the business processes, such as reporting and notification requirements and onerous oversight, cause inefficiencies in government.

— Matthew Weigelt

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

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