Stan Soloway | Old personnel policies harm government

Buylines | Policies, strategies and trends to watch

Stan Soloway

The Intelligence Science Board published a
report in late 2006 warning that the intelligence
community is losing rather than
gaining connectivity to the technology

The ISB report states that
"the government now has far
less control than before over the
problems addressed, the selection
of personnel to perform the
work ... and less knowledge than
ever before of what work is
actually being done" in technology
development. As National
Journal reporter Shane Harris
wrote about the report, "today,
the private sector directs almost
all new research."

These findings paint a stark
picture for U.S. intelligence
activities. They also reiterate
one of the most significant drivers in
the growth of federal professional
services contracting: the dominance of
the private sector in technology development
and ownership and the corollary
human resources reality that technology
workers follow the technology
work and ownership. In a world in
which virtually all business processes
and innovative solutions are technology
driven, that reality looms especially

That puts the ISB report at odds with
those who argue that the government's
best interests would be served by greatly
reducing its reliance on contractors
and rebuilding its internal capabilities.
Coupled with other important analyses,
such as the 2003 report of the National
Commission on Public Service, also
known as the Volcker Commission, the
ISB report is an important reminder
that the government's role in the economy
and personnel marketplace is vastly
different today than it was 15 or 20
years ago.

This is not to say the government
has no control over its operational destiny.
As the Government Accountability
Office, secretary of the Navy, director of
the CIA and others have suggested,
despite the dramatic changes that have
taken place, the government must
nonetheless retain the critical skills
needed to effectively align, integrate
and manage technology, cost, schedule
and performance.

On one level, Congress is listening.
In a speech to the Professional
Services Council, Rep. Henry
Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the
House Oversight and Government
Reform Committee, spoke of the
need to enhance the federal acquisition
workforce. Legislation reported
by his committee and the Senate
Homeland Security and
Governmental Affairs Committee
contains important provisions aimed
at the acquisition workforce, as do
various other bills. Agencies are also
employing new tactics, through contract
clauses and revised personnel
policies to stem the exit of skilled

Authorizing and funding positions
and training is important, but it is not
nearly enough. Likewise, some of the
contractual and policy practices of
agencies are understandable, if also
unfair, but they too ignore the root
problem. Indeed, almost no one is
focusing on the predicate conditions
that are essential for government to
address its personnel needs in acquisition
and elsewhere.

As the Volcker Commission reported,
and groups like the Partnership for
Public Service and Council on
Excellence in Government stress, the
government has not revamped its
organizational structure or personnel
policies to meet the challenges of the
modern era. Despite some limited
progress, the personnel reforms advocated
by the commission and others
remain far from reality.

Hundreds of unfilled positions exist
in acquisition alone, and many of the
government's top technology leaders
openly acknowledge a continuing
struggle to recruit and retain the technology
skills they need. As public
opinion surveys and the government's
continued personnel struggles demonstrate,
unless and until major personnel
reforms become a reality and the
government is able to more effectively
compete for talent, its chances of substantially
altering current trends are
slim at best.

Until that time, Congress and the
agencies need to be careful that they
don't make assumptions in regulation,
law or practice about the future ?
including the role of contractors ?
that current realities cannot support.
Doing so will solve little; indeed, it's
likely to make matters worse.

Stan Soloway is president of the
Professional Services Council. His e-mail
address is

About the Author

Stan Soloway is a former deputy undersecretary of Defense and former president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council. He is now the CEO of Celero Strategies.

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