CXO Lessons Learned: A new workforce paradigm

Contractor employees abound in government workplaces. Often the only obvious difference between them and federal workers is the color of a security badge. But that appearance of uniformity belies the increasingly complex reality of managing a multisector workforce, experts say.The government’s workforce — often a mixture of federal workers and private-sector contract employees working side by side — is a potential minefield, as the Army learned recently. In a March report, Government Accountability Office auditors identified what they termed a blurry line between government employees and contractors working for the Army, and they advised the Army to take steps to more clearly differentiate its contractor employees.The appearance of a homogeneous workforce in government is “a good thing, in the sense that you want to create environments that are somewhat seamless,” said Christopher Mihm, director of strategic issues at GAO. “On the other hand, there are risks associated with that, and it gets back to the blurry line. You forget who…has a fiduciary responsibility to their stakeholders — the contractor — versus those who take an oath of office — as federal employees do — for the greater common good.”Ron Flom, associate director of management services, chief human capital officer and chief acquisition officer at the Office of Personnel Management, said there should never be a blurry line between employees and contractors. “I want to make sure that tasks are clearly spelled out so there’s no reason” for any confusion about what is inherently governmental work and what isn’t, he said. Under federal rules, contractors are prohibited from doing work that is inherently governmental.It’s possible to manage multisector employees as one workforce, but managers have to understand the intrinsic differences among the sectors, Mihm said. The challenge is putting the various sectors into a “public-management Cuisinart in a creative way” to reach desired outcomes, he said. “You want to know the respective strengths and limitations that each of the various sectors brings. You want to manage in such a way that you’re integrating and leveraging the strengths and minimizing the weaknesses.”At NASA, where fewer than a third of the 58,000 employees are full-time federal workers, agency officials say they are comfortable with managing a multisector workforce.“NASA has a history of civil servants and contractors working side by side, so this is par for the course for us,” said Toni Dawsey, NASA’s assistant administrator for human capital management. “When you walk into a center or any building at NASA, it’s hard to know who’s a contractor and who isn’t. But I would say it’s a pretty fluid relationship and doesn’t pose any problems for us.”But there are also hurdles ahead as NASA realigns its workforce to support development of a new space shuttle, the Constellation, for launch in 2012. Last year, the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), a congressionally chartered organization that analyzes the workings of government, issued a report on NASA’s multisector workforce. That report recommends that the agency adopt a stronger workforce management strategy by integrating acquisition planning and workforce planning at the top executive levels. Acting on that recommendation, NASA has constructed a formal workforce governance structure that includes a team of human resources, acquisition and financial officials; budget analysts; transition managers; and other major players from NASA’s 10 centers. The governance structure pulls key people together to monitor the workforce, Dawsey said.However, that governance structure excludes contractors. Under the terms of NASA’s performance-based contracts, NASA officials are prevented from de veloping detailed strategic plans for the contractor workforce, such as determining skill sets and competencies required for projects.  “For the civil service, we plan competency levels on projects…to help us understand who to hire and who not to hire over the next several years,” Dawsey said. “We can’t do that by competencies for contractors. We don’t decide their competencies. We buy the contract, and they decide who and how many they’re going to put [on a project].”Indeed, as the government relies more on the expertise of contractor employees, agencies need to better align workforce planning with acquisition planning to meet their goals, said Alethea Long-Green, director of human capital studies at NAPA and adjunct professor of public policy at George Mason University.At U.S. intelligence agencies, officials decided two years ago to conduct an inventory of contract employees and use the results to build an effective workforce and ensure that contractors are serving in the right roles. That inventory has become a critical tool for managing their multisector workforce.“We feel we can’t just treat [contract employees] as an afterthought and spend all of our time focusing on our civilian and military personnel,” said Andrew Richardson, senior human capital policy adviser at the Office of the Intelligence Community. “We’re all one workforce, we’re all pulling in the same direction, and we want to make sure our contract personnel are integrated into our workforce and that the roles they are playing are the appropriate roles.”Although onsite contractor employees and federal workers might be virtually indistinguishable at the intelligence agencies, “within our offices, we certainly know who the contract personnel are and what different roles they’re doing,” Richardson said. “Internally, it’s not an issue.”“Contract personnel work according to a contract,” he added. “It’s very clear what they’re supposed to be doing and what kind of services they’re supposed to be providing. They don’t provide services outside the scope of their contract.”The challenges of managing a multisector workforce have elevated the role of federal acquisition and contract specialists. “It’s not a back-office function anymore,” Mihm said. “It’s central to how agencies do their mission and deliver value for taxpayers. We have to make sure that we have in place people with the knowledge and skills to manage and oversee contractors and contract relationships.”John Palguta, vice president of the Partnership for Public Service, agreed. “When you have an increasing reliance on a contract workforce, you need to have people who are very good at managing that relationship,” he said. “You have to have great relationships to make sure that the desired end results are being achieved.” 

Defining the new workforce

Some call it the blended workforce. Others refer to a hybrid. Still others say mixed. But the most accurate term is multisector, said Alethea Long-Green, director of human capital studies at the National Academy of Public Administration, which has assembled a working group to study the challenges of managing the government’s burgeoning multisector workforce.

“We prefer…the terminology ‘multisector’ to ‘blended,’” she said. “That [conclusion] was the result of the research and a very rigorous discussion among our fellows. A blended workforce implies a unified workforce, and in point of fact, it’s not. They’re workers from different sectors, they have separate constitutional and legal identifications, they’ve got separate appointing authorities and separate pay schedules, and yet they share the responsibility for the federal mission. So we think we need to start [with] common terms and definitions.”

Long-Green said that although the government has always contracted for services and products, agencies are increasingly turning to a variety of sectors for workforce support. “It’s not just contractors,” she said. “It’s state and local civil servants, uniformed personnel, nonprofits, international workers and volunteers — those are all the people that make up the multisector workforce.”

— Richard W. Walker

CXO lessons learned

Federal employees work alongside federal contractors in many information technology organizations. Chief information officers can minimize conflicts of interest and other workforce problems if they follow strategic advice from government management experts.

Here are 5 strategic lessons learned.


  • Never forget that federal contractors must answer to their companies and stockholders and that federal employees must answer to the public.
  • Organize your workplace to maximize the respective strengths and minimize the respective weaknesses of federal employees and federal contractors.
  • Adopt a formal workforce governance structure to handle workforce issues.
  • Integrate workforce planning and acquisition planning within your organization.
  • Ensure that your agency has skilled contracting officials who can manage contractor/agency relationships.

— Florence Olsen



































X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.