DOD struggles to limit contractors to appropriate jobs, GAO finds

The challenge of separating inherently governmental work from contractor-appropriate work may still bedevil the Defense department.

Defense officials have allowed contractors to perform work that only a federal employee should do because, in part, military departments have not done well in itemizing their services contracts, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

Army inventory reviews of fiscal 2009 services contracts found 1,935 instances of contractors conducting inherently government functions, or work only a federal employee is supposed to do. The Air Force found 91 instances, the GAO reported. In its review of 12 cases related to inherently governmental functions, GAO found officials had not rectified the situation in eight cases.

Although the study was from fiscal 2009, GAO said it's not possible to know yet if the problems are solved. GAO reported that defense officials have made some changes in gathering data in its fiscal 2010 contract inventory reviews that could help. However, officials said they could not get a complete picture for the reviews until at least 2016.

One case detailed in the report involved a $6.1 million IT support contract at Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Defense Language Institute. A contractor held a “project manager” function, which officials said was an inherently governmental function. The contractor continued to perform the work at least through the period of the study.

In two cases, contracting and program officials didn’t know that the inventory review process deemed as inherently governmental a contractor’s work on an engineering support contract at an acquisition support center. The contractor provided technical expertise and coordination with the program office, other military departments, Congress and private companies. The other case involved a $409,000 Air National Guard contract for financial analytical support.

Both contracts had expired, but the work continued under subsequent contracts, GAO reported.

Officials also said a $120,000 task order for advice and advocacy on Air National Guard positions and programs to staff and commands included inherently governmental work.

In four instances, contractors served as systems coordinators at the Army.

Military officials have several ways to address the problem. They include:

  • Modifying the statement of work.
  • Assigning the work to a government employee.
  • Stopping the work altogether.

Getting better at itemizing annual services contracts would also help, according to the report. The inventories are intended to make it plain which jobs should be off limits to contractors. Officials could stay abreast of what’s happening by keeping detailed records about each services contract.

Nevertheless, GAO said military departments’ fiscal year 2009 inventories of contracted services were incomplete. Besides the Army and Air Force, Navy headquarters officials had no assurance that their commands conducted the reviews, and GAO found no evidence at the commands it contacted that officials had conducted the required reviews.

GAO recommended that officials describe in policy who’s in charge in doing the reviews and the authority they have to get them done correctly. DOD agreed with the recommendation.

About the Author

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

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Reader comments

Wed, Apr 11, 2012 Lynne

I guess they should have thought twice before they enforced A76. That is what happened to inherently government functions getting fuzzy. The big push to contract out the government screwed up more than it helped.

Tue, Apr 10, 2012 Jess

Less than 1950 across the entire AF and Army? The real story is that the number is so small.

Tue, Apr 10, 2012 Erich Darr

Under the Reinvention of Government and push to contract out work DoD shed so many experienced employees that there aren't enough capable and experienced civil servants to perform all of the inherently governmental functions. While it may behappening, I haven't seen a concerted effort in recent years to employ contractor personnel to mentor junior civil servants to bring them up on the curve.

Tue, Apr 10, 2012 fritz

The GAO needs the final say on cost accounting and if the military services can't provide the required reporting data then the GAO should freeze the funding for that contract(s) until proper reporting is provided. Too many times the military services stall reporting because they know they are violating contract rules and hope the GAO will go away. Its time the GAO is given teeth to inforce their policies

Tue, Apr 10, 2012 RayW

Or, maybe you can not hire truly qualified people to do government work at the wages government is able to pay (grade creep exceptions abound in DC I hear) or you have staffing limits, but you can hire contractors to do the job (some of whom have been here for many years).

Here we have a lot of contractors doing what should be government work because you simply can not get someone to do work like program management for what the job pays on the GS scale, so you hire a contractor and pay more for him twice, once in his cost and once more in the cost of the contract house. Plus we have a problem with the number of bodies allowed not meeting the tasking requirements, so hire a contractor and never have to try and find a qualified body AND authorization for it.

There are exceptions that are useful, one example we have are some logistics folks who are much better at the job than any government worker could be, because they have access to internal company documents that a government employee would not know about, much less be able to see, making our job much more efficient. Technically that should be a government job, but a government worker would lose about half the efficiency that the contractors bring to the position.

Using a broad brush like what I seem to see in the article is dangerous, sometimes there are valid reasons to not do one or the other in choosing in-house or contractor, despite what "should" be done.

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