Contractors lack skills to help agency modernize, Customs official says

Ken Ritchhart, Customs' IT chief, is urging IT workers to get retrained. What advice is he offering his prime contractors?

Most IT contract workers at Customs and Border Protection do not have the information technology skills the agency will need in the next few years as it modernizes its systems, a senior official said today.

The bulk of the current contractor workforce of 3,268 people in CBP’s Office of Information and Technology (OIT) needs to be more familiar with new technologies to help the agency transform itself, Ken Ritchhart, deputy assistant commissioner, said at a seminar today sponsored by the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council.


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“About 70 percent of the contractors are not qualified for the new target environment,” Ritchhart said. Some will be able to retrain to become qualified, and some likely won’t be able to achieve that, he added.

“You need to retrain. That is quite doable,” Ritchhart said. “You cannot take the same folks we have and do it without training.”

CBP's OIT is in the process of “federalizing” its workforce by hiring 1,000 additional government IT employees, bringing the roster to about 2,500 by the end of fiscal 2011, Ritchhart said.

By converting a contractor employee post to a government employee, the office can save up to $40,000 per person, with a projected savings of $40 million overall, he said. Some of the savings are derived by hiring less-experienced workers at lower salaries, he said, but those workers have in their favor a familiarity with the latest technologies.

Ritchhart also noted that more than $1 billion in OIT procurements will be awarded in the next six months. His advice for contractors and systems integrators is to offer a high return on investment, fast delivery, scalability, availability, security, open interfaces, “plug and play” capabilities, integration and “elegant simplicity."

A problem Ritchhart said he has noted with contracting is that vendors often are predisposed to a particular solution. For example, he said a vendor recently offered a solution that cost $5 million and would be ready in six months. An inhouse team at CBP developed an alternative solution in 45 days at a cost of only $500,000, he said.

“The biggest problem is that people want to do things the way they always have been done. But there is always more than one way to build a system. We don’t always do a good job of analyzing alternatives,” Ritchhart said.