Are DHS contractors running amok?

Two heavyweights from the Senate want to know who is minding the shop at the Homeland Security Department. And whoever it is, the department's inspector general would like to speak with them.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano late last month to express concerns that the contractor workforce at DHS, estimated at 200,000, now outnumbers the federal civilian employees, which stands at 188,000, not including Coast Guard uniformed employees.

“The sheer number of DHS contractors currently on board again raises the question of whether DHS itself is in charge of its programs and policies, or whether it inappropriately has ceded core decisions to contractors,” Lieberman and Collins wrote Feb. 24.

On the same day, as chance would have it, DHS IG Richard Skinner released a report that questions the department’s willingness to suspend or debar poorly performing contractors.

In a recent audit, the IG identified 23 cases in which a contract was terminated for default or cause, but the contract was not subsequently reviewed to see whether a debarment or suspension was appropriate.

DHS "has suspension and debarment policies and procedures in place," Skinner wrote. "However, the department is reluctant to apply the policies and procedures against poorly performing contractors.”

The timing of the letter and the report appears to be coincidental, but no one could be blamed for seeing one as the cause and the other as the effect.

The two stories “may cause folks to wonder if any reluctance might be created from the department's ‘heavy reliance on contractors,’” wrote reader Peter G. Tuttle. "It's tough to debar your contractors if you are overly dependent upon them. It would be very interesting to see what percent of DHS' mission support effort is performed by the contractors in question who were not debarred or suspended.”

About the Author

John Monroe is Senior Events Editor for the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, where he is responsible for overseeing the development of content for print and online content, as well as events. John has more than 20 years of experience covering the information technology field. Most recently he served as Editor-in-Chief of Federal Computer Week. Previously, he served as editor of three sister publications: civic.com, which covered the state and local government IT market, Government Health IT, and Defense Systems.

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