Senators worried about DHS' reliance on contractors

Members of a Senate committee are concerned that the Homeland Security Department continues to rely on contractors, instead of growing the expertise it needs internally, according to a new report.

The Senate Appropriations Committee said in a report accompanying a spending bill the panel approved June 19 that its members were concerned that contractors are performing work that is more appropriate for federal employees or contractors are doing work that comes close to inherently governmental functions.

The Senate has not passed the legislation, and the House has not acted on its version of the measure.

The report said DHS has approximately 1,400 contractors and 1,340 federal employees handling the department's work.

When DHS was created in 2003, Congress expected it to rely heavily on contractors, but the department still depends on them to meet its mission "with little emphasis on assessing risk and ensuring management control and accountability," the report states.

DHS officials said they are working to reach the right balance between contractors and government employees. However, the document said none of the 1,400 contractors in management offices will be converted to federal employees in fiscal 2008 and only 35 are planned for 2009.

"The department's reliance on contractors has also created a void of in-house programmatic experts and institutional knowledge that is critical to meet current and future challenges," the report states.

The committee recommended finding a metric to measure the appropriate mix of contractors and employees along with establishing an aggressive plan to convert jobs to federal employees.

Contractors, particularly in selected services, often can cost more than employing a federal worker, the report states, using the example of a contractor working in DHS' Office of Intelligence who costs 60 percent more than a federal employee.

"Given its use of contractors to provide selected services, it is critical for DHS to strategically address workforce deployment and determine the appropriate role of contractors in meeting its mission," the document states.

Also, the legislation would give DHS' chief procurement officer $39 million for fiscal 2009, $10.5 million above this year's appropriation.

The senators wrote that in 2008 they gave the officer resources to hire 66 additional procurement employees, but as of March 31, that officer's office was 36 percent below its authorized number of employees. The committee is urging DHS to take advantage of new authorities in the proposed bill to use as much as 50 percent of its leftover money from 2008's salaries and expenses for hiring new staff.

About the Author

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

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