Letter: How much is pay a factor in outsourcing high-level workers?

Regarding “Kelman: Too many contractors?” I agree that the pay structure influences outsourcing decisions, especially at the lower end of the scale. The pressure to keep those jobs in-house comes from unions, on behalf of employees, and even more significantly from members of Congress -- who've added layer after layer of restrictions and caveats on the Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76 process. Protecting relatively well-paid jobs in an increasingly competitive economy is the obvious and (somewhat) understandable goal.

I'm not so sure it's as significant a factor at the upper end of the pay scale, however. Most of the federal jobs that end up competed out via A-76 are technical, administrative and support jobs, not high-end professional positions. And although an increasing amount of the latter type of talent is acquired through other forms of contracting vs. hiring more career feds, I don't think salary constraints are the primary driver. The differences between contractor and government pay at senior levels are not as great as many would like to believe -- except for executives, which the feds aren't contracting out (yet). This is particularly true when you look at total compensation vs. base salaries alone.

More typically, agencies default to contracting for high-end talent because it's faster, easier and yields better-quality staff (often in volume) than suffering through the tortuous onesy/twosy federal hiring process. And although experienced professionals may be reluctant to apply directly to a government agency -- because of the hiring process, and (for some) the stigma of becoming a fed -- they're not hesitant to pursue jobs with well-regarded private firms, even when they know the work will be in government. 

It's a complex problem with lots of factors and issues to consider. Money is a piece of the puzzle, for sure, but too often we default to pay as the easy villain behind all of government's HR problems. If only it were as simple as that.

Fred Mills

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