Contracting

We're paying contractors how much?

Shutterstock image (Roman Seliutin): Businessman checking his wallet.

(Image: Roman Seliutin / Shutterstock)

How much should contracting officers be paying for labor? The General Services Administration has a new tool out aimed at answering that question.

Launched May 12, CALC.gov allows contracting officers to see hourly pay rates across eight GSA professional services schedules for a huge range of contractor jobs: 48,000 labor categories and more than 5,000 GSA awarded contracts.

“Before CALC, contracting officers would either need to go through GSA's Advantage system or dig through electronic or paper copies of the contracts,” says Nick Brethauer, CALC project lead from GSA’s 18F innovation lab. “CALC provides a broader search without having to page through individual contracts to get comparables.”

Users can deploy a variety of filters to narrow their comparisons, including keywords, education levels, experience and business size.

Some of the pricing might seem excessive – more than $50 per hour for an “unskilled role player” with a high school education – but Brethauer noted that the rates are “fully burdened,” meaning they include the full cost of a company’s overhead rolled into the hourly rate.

And the rates CALC presents, he added, are ceilings, not floors.

“These are the highest prices that could be paid; the actual price will be lower,” Brethauer said. “So that applies for the example of the high school-educated role player. But the more important point there is that a vendor can propose whatever rate they want, and give it a fancy sounding title if they want, but if a contracting officer comes across it, they will do their due diligence either way by reading the contract and the actual job description proposed for it, compare it to others, and then of course negotiate the rate down.”

Brethauer noted that, as with many things 18F, CALC will be an iteratively updated work in progress.

“We took a lean and agile approach to the design of CALC, so from the beginning, every two weeks we had working code/prototype that we got in front of contracting officers to do usability testing and conceptual validation with,” he said. “We very iteratively built toward this minimum viable product, which we very much consider to be ‘release 1,’ so we expect to continue to improve on it and add features that we've learned would add a lot of value for our users.”

Who are those users?

“CALC is mainly geared toward federal acquisition folks -- particularly contracting officers and contracting specialists -- but [it’s] really for anyone in government thinking about buying professional services,” Brethauer said. “For example, program managers might find it useful to start estimating potential costs.”

Increased access to pay information, Brethauer said, should empower feds to negotiate more effectively and ultimately save the government money.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a staff writer covering digital citizen services, workforce issues and a range of civilian federal agencies.

Before joining FCW in 2015, Noble served as assistant editor at the viral news site TheBlaze, where he wrote a mix of business, political and breaking news stories and managed weekend news coverage. He has also written for online and print publications including The Washington Free Beacon, The Santa Barbara News-Press, The Federalist and Washington Technology.

Noble is a graduate of Saint Vincent College, where he studied English, economics and mathematics.

Click here for previous articles by Noble, or connect with him on Twitter: @thezachnoble.


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