Experts redefining government-only work

As Bush administration officials try to define precisely the work that only government employees should perform, not being able to hire more of those employees could create serious problems, officials said Dec. 10.

The acquisition workforce is a major challenge for the government, particularly when considering a new definition of its work, said Cathy Garman, professional staff member of the House Armed Services Committee, who spoke on a panel about acquisition reforms.

Concerned about the perception that contractors were performing inherently governmental work, Congress told the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) in the fiscal 2009 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 3001) to rewrite the definition of that government work.

“We have too many definitions out there,” which allows agencies to pick the definition that best suits their needs at that time, Garman said. “We’re trying to put the genie back in the bottle, so to speak.”

However, in writing that definition, officials must consider its effects on the acquisition workforce, experts say.

Agencies must be adequately staffed to perform inherently governmental work, such as overseeing contractors. Also, federal employees need to know how to do essential work even though the work may not be inherently governmental to retain certain core capabilities as a matter of national policy, the armed services panel wrote earlier this year in a report related to the authorization bill.

However, changing the definition and other acquisition reforms hinges on enhancing the capacity of the workforce plus bringing in more people to fill empty slots, Garman said. “But our [committee] members aren’t going to sit around and wait” for the positions to be filled and the employees to be fully trained before reforming the acquisition system, she said.

Robert Burton, former deputy administrator at  the OFPP and now partner at the Venable law firm, said contractors and government employees sitting side by side won’t disappear.

“The federal government simply has to rely on the private sector,” because the government doesn’t have enough people to do the work, said Burton, who was on the panel. Due to the shortage of people, he said broadening the definition of inherently governmental functions would have disastrous effects on agencies.

The solution is improving management of the blended workforce, not erasing it, he said.

The major obstruction to enlarging the workforce is the hiring process, which is slow, cumbersome and time-consuming, Garman and Burton agreed.

Most applicants can’t wait nine months to learn if they have a job, Burton said.

About the Author

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

Featured

  • Telecommunications
    Stock photo ID: 658810513 By asharkyu

    GSA extends EIS deadline to 2023

    Agencies are getting up to three more years on existing telecom contracts before having to shift to the $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions vehicle.

  • Workforce
    Shutterstock image ID: 569172169 By Zenzen

    OMB looks to retrain feds to fill cyber needs

    The federal government is taking steps to fill high-demand, skills-gap positions in tech by retraining employees already working within agencies without a cyber or IT background.

  • Acquisition
    GSA Headquarters (Photo by Rena Schild/Shutterstock)

    GSA to consolidate multiple award schedules

    The General Services Administration plans to consolidate dozens of its buying schedules across product areas including IT and services to reduce duplication.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.