Don't cut corners on insourcing transitions

Agencies need to transition positions without losing institutional knowledge

Peter G. Tuttle, CPCM, is senior procurement policy analyst at Distributed Solutions.

In a recent article at the Huffington Post about the term “inherently governmental” (“To Be, or Not to Be, Inherent: That is the Question”), David Isenberg hit the nail on the head: “Trying to define the term is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall; only nailing Jell-O is easier.”

But how the Office of Federal Procurement Policy finally defines the term — and how it crafts and implements the resulting policy — could have a significant effect on federal and contractor employees and organizations and the overall governance process.

The issue of who performs inherently governmental, critical and sensitive services is tremendously important to the federal acquisition community, the government, Congress and taxpayers. We collectively must trust that the right people are making and executing the right decisions and that they are doing it on behalf of taxpayers.

Essentially, the government created the current situation by its mismanagement of its human capital resources, its poor business practices, and its failure to use effective governance processes to ensure that the acquisition process retains a high level of trust. The policy in question is an indictment of government inefficiency rather than contractor abuses.

Nevertheless, the government needs to embrace and implement an effective governance structure to ensure that decisions are made only by those who have the authority to make them — not some shadow workforce or those without the proper authority.

Federal agencies can’t simply hire their way out of this mess. The new hires probably will not have the skillsets and experience to perform the tasks that agencies need. Those workers need training and acclimation, which can take years. Agencies can’t realistically expect to transition duties from contractors overnight without risking mission failure. Instead, they must develop common-sense plans to transition positions from contractors to in-house employees over time. And they need to establish some type of path for transitioning selected duties without losing the knowledge that exists in the organization or the people who already perform those functions.

One of the prerequisites for developing a strategic human resources or function transition plan is a top-down analysis of what activities an agency is performing versus what it should be performing to accomplish its mission. Over time, agencies have created and inherited functions and been assigned activities by Congress or the White House that might not be germane to their primary public goal.

One example is the operation of a franchise fund, in which an agency manages acquisition/procurement activities for other agencies. In some cases, that approach makes sense. But the functions have grown into their own revenue-generating operations as fee-for-service activities. Perhaps Congress should re-evaluate agency missions and eliminate those that do not directly contribute to the agency’s performance of its primary public mission.

As OFPP officials state in their proposed policy letter, the success of this process of defining inherently governmental will depend a great deal on the “exercise of informed judgment by agency officials.” The translation: good management. Poor management at any number of government levels is exactly what got us where we are today.


About the Author

Peter G. Tuttle is vice president of Distributed Solutions, an acquisition consulting firm, and a fellow at the National Contract Management Association.

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Reader comments

Wed, Jul 28, 2010 North Carolina

Let me explain how "amiss" our federal government is with the whole transition thingie. My contract position is being replaced by a GS grade that will cause me to loose 30% of my pay. No big deal, right? Unfortunately, my same job is posted doing the same work, from a different governmental agency with only a 10% reduction in pay. Now... think about that. One agency pays more than another agency for the same job. My contract job will never be filled because the new agency wont have the funds to do it.

Mon, Jul 5, 2010 Crane, IN

I completely agree that the transition from contractor to government positions should occur at a slow enough pace so that all parties have time to react in a way that does not negatively impact the warfighter or other customers. Unfortunately, finding a group of leaders in the government (whether civil service or contractor) that have the slightest bit of common sense is a major undertaking. If you look at the vast amount of changes that have been made at Crane (a Navy Base in Southern Indiana) in recent months you have to scratch your head about anyone in the chain of command understanding what an acquisition's work force is all about. Let me give you a clue, it's all about the warfighter when it's your job to support him/her 24/7. I see far too many managers at every level gathering statistics so that they can point fingers at each other on why something isn't done. They are spending more time gathering data than doing the work. I don't care if you are a government employee, contractor, or customer, it is your ultimate duty to get the job done for the American taxpayer and from my view, in too many instances, we are failing the mission to support the troops. At Crane, if you're a contractor you'll be treated like a second class citizen no matter what level your position happens to be. You won't be given the same training even though your position is no different than that of a civil service employee. You won't be informed of government positions available that you may qualify for and until recently, you didn't even get invited to "all hands" meetings. Are acquisition's positions "inherently government"? Yes, without question. Put yourself in the shoes of a contrator supporting a government person who has influence over your company's contract. Are you going to report fraud, waste, or abuse against your client? No. Are you going to report that "bad client" to your boss? The same boss who is trying desperately to get the client to add more positions. No! That's the entire problem in a nutshell.

Wed, Jun 30, 2010 Jaime Gracia

A business case analysis, with the proper cost/benefit components, should also be a critical step in the process to right-sizing the workforce and ensuring mission success. This is a process, and must be done logically and in the best interest of the taxpayer and also to allow industry to adapt. This is not just an issue for the government; this is a holistic strategy with many stakeholders and all interests must be considered.

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