DHS seeks new workforce formula

The Homeland Security Department has increased the number of contracting officers since 2004, but officials are trying to decide the department's optimal staffing level.

Thomas Essig, DHS’ chief procurement officer, said the number of contracting officers increased from 603 in 2004 to 1,005 in 2007. He added that the larger acquisition workforce can better manage the department's more than $19 billion in annual spending.

However, officials won’t know when the workforce is large enough because their method of calculating the appropriate balance is flawed, Essig said today at the Government Performance Summit in Arlington, Va.

According to the department’s longstanding cost-to-spend ratio, there should be one contracting officer for a specified amount of money the department spends, Essig said.

However, officials could easily create a bad situation by following that formula. For example, if initiatives such as strategic sourcing began trimming costs for DHS, the formula would indicate that officials should scale back the number of contracting officers.

But doing so could land DHS in the same predicament it was trying to escape, when “ ‘fast’ " was sometimes at the expense of ‘good,’ ” Essig said.

One of Essig’s first goals in his new position as chief procurement officer is changing that formula. He said he knows DHS lacks at least several hundred contracting officers, despite the increases in the past few years.

“We are badly understaffed” in a number of areas, he said.

Furthermore, Essig said 50 percent of DHS’ acquisition workers could retire during  the next eight years, and therefore he needs to build “a pipeline to DHS’ acquisition workforce.”

“We need to make DHS a worthwhile place to work — for a lifetime or for two years,” he added.

Essig said he’s looking for all kinds of people, from college graduates to recent retirees. He’s received direct-hire authority from the Office of Personnel Management, which is designed to help agencies fill vacancies when they have a critical hiring need or a severe shortage of candidates.

DHS is also recruiting retirees to help mentor younger workers on a part-time basis. When the department announced two such openings, 39 people expressed interest, he said.

As recent graduates arrive as DHS, he said, “re-employed annuitants are absolutely critical for us.”

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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