Experts redefining government-only work
- By Matthew Weigelt
- Dec 11, 2008
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.