Senators to DOD: Use more of your own employees

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta received a letter from 26 senators April 25 who urged him to use more civilian employees instead of contractors.

The senators, led by Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), wrote that they understand the need to cut back on civilian employees because of tightened budgets. However, they raised concerns that the private sector wasn’t given similar constraints.

They recommended eliminating “the arbitrary cap on the civilian workforce” or provide a waiver for hiring.

“If there is work to be done and the funding to pay for that work, managers should not be arbitrarily prevented from using civilian employees,” they wrote. Officials should decide who will do commercial jobs on the basis of cost. Officials should also lift the cap on the civilian workforce so that decisions can be based on merit, rather than constraints.

In addition, the senators said they expect defense officials to use a Total Force Management approach so DOD makes decisions based on a holistic view of its military, civilian, and contractor workforce.

The senators want to avoid an incentive for federal managers to opt for contracting companies rather than civilian employees “when the latter costs less.” There has been an ongoing debate over who costs less: contractors or federal employees. Each side has their own figures and data.

One industry group replied in a letter April 30 to the senators, taking on their statements about the costs of contractors.

Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, wrote that his organization doesn’t support arbitrary caps on federal employees any more than on contractors. In fact, agencies need flexibility to manage their personnel and resources.

In some areas, the government needs to build up its workforce numbers and skills. But it may be necessary to increase contractor support for certain other areas, such as some mission-critical functions requiring high-end skills that the government cannot do as economically as contractors.

“In these cases, the companies provide the critical conduit to those skills. Unfortunately, your letter does not recognize this balance,” he wrote to the senators.

The senators emphasized the importance of cost comparisons. Defense officials must compare costs when making outsourcing decisions. Law requires those comparisons if officials decide to send work to a contractor that federal employees have done in the past.

They also want prohibitions on outsourcing of inherently governmental work, or jobs only a federal employee can do. They told officials to conduct their inventories on services contracts.

About the Author

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

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Reader comments

Tue, May 8, 2012 Dayton

Not so sure about the $40 an hour civil servant's true cost being &75 an hour and cost of an equivalent contractor being $140 an hour--tnat's a wrap rate (OH, G&A etc added) of 3.5. Not many contractors can compete effectively even at a wrap rate of 2.0.

Mon, May 7, 2012 DT2

Kyle - Truth? Here ya go. Base rate for a contractor is typically twice the total compensation rate of a Governement employee. A GS12 Government employee making about $40/hr base rate amounts to about $75 total compensation. That includes the infrastructure required to support them (gas, power, lights, network costs). A contractor performing the same function typically gets about $150 and the Government still has to pay for the infrastructure including the cost of a PC for the contractor to use. Retirement benefits? When I worked for the Government my retirement account consisted mostly of whatever I put into it with a small amount contributed by the Goverment in the form of a 5% match and a 1.5% automatic contribution.

Fri, May 4, 2012 Kyle

Civilian costs chepaer? I think not, they play a shell game and do not include total compensation. They have to leave out retirement benefits, which are HUGE for civilians, to make civilian pay seem chepaer. It is not. Also, once hire, you can't get rid of a civilian employee and those costs are not included. Civilians do cost more than contractors if you have a fair comparison of total compensation. Obama always says he want everythng fair. How about the truth? That's fair.

Fri, May 4, 2012

Monday Morning Quarterbacks is another name for Senators. They create so many non-sensical rules, reports, testimony etc that no government employee can do their job without "FEAR". Back-off Senators and let the pros make the day to day decisions of contractor or civil service to get the best for the Tax-payer dollars.

Thu, May 3, 2012 Erich Darr

When you're talking mission critical functions, doesn't that sound like an inherently governmental function and doesn't it make sense that you should train integral resources to perform those functions?

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