DOD needs better census of contractors

Management decisions suffer because of poor counting, GAO says

As Congress seeks more information on the Defense Department’s service contracts, the DOD officials have to figure out how to accurately determine the number of private-sector employees doing the work, according to a report released this week.

The defense agencies differ in their approaches to reviewing the work performed by contractors and the extent to which they use the inventories to make workforce decisions, according to the Government Accountability Office.

An inventory of service contracts can help DOD officials make decisions about insourcing and their reliance on contractors if it can give an honest assessment.


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“At this point, the absence of a way forward hinders the achievement of this objective,” the GAO wrote.

GAO officials recommended that DOD draw up a plan on how officials will gather data on manpower. More immediately, DOD should improve how it estimates the number of workers. Defense officials agreed with the recommendations.

DOD relies heavily on contractors to carry out its work, even to the point of supporting core missions. Officials are worried that the government is put at risk if contractors handle key functions. In 2008, Congress told DOD to compile an inventory of service contracts, which includes the number of contractor employees that are working on these contracts and the work they perform.

In November, defense officials released their fiscal 2009 report, a 9,118-page inventory.

Recently, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics gave an interim approach for measuring contractor employees that is similar to that of the Army, which is more advanced than other services in gathering data. The undersecretary hasn't issued new guidance, even though officials said they would release some by August 2010.

About the Author

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

Reader Comments

Sat, Jan 22, 2011 Mick Davis Denver

This happened in the Clinton era. With an obvious political attempt to "in-source" and reduce contractor headcount without a realistic vision and plan - the head shed in Washington DC slashes and starves all programs across the board and without fail, a real world event happens and the ka ka hit the fan forcing the DoD and the war fighter to react instead of applying prescriptive leadership paying a premium price in dollars and blood.

Fri, Jan 21, 2011 Jawaralal Mischbucha Bethesda, Maryland

The flag-waving approach to justifying contracting is ridiculous. Some Congresspeople these days, and some companies and their employees equate contracting to jobs programs. They make contracting sound like an entitlement, and a growing number appear to think that is true. It ain't, and the longer we protect parts of the budget as nondiscretionary, the more we hurt the country. Even Republican budget brainiac Cong. Ryan believes the Defense budget needs to be justified rather than just sheltered from scrutiny and cuts. He knows the waste is palpable and has said as much. "Anonymous" in Norfolk may as well. The I'm-a-vet approach is also lame and inappropriate. There are over 20 million of us. Lets thank ourselves, etc. But being a vet does not entitle one to a job as a contractor, however worthy the position might be. Taxpayers and their elected representatives have every right to count and scrutinize contractors, no matter what the methodology. Yup, it is sad that DoD does not have the numbers. Are we surprised? If you, Anon. in Norfolk, have a "govt boss," are you a personal services contractor? Don't dump on him for his degree. Presumably your roles and scope of responsibility are different. If they are not, one of you needs to be trimmed off the workforce. Secretary Gates is proceeding to do the right thing, and in the end it will be good for contractors. It certainly is good for the country and all citizen-taxpayers,

Fri, Jan 21, 2011

One of the reasons they don't have a handle on the number of contractors working for DOD is due to the change from T&M contracts to Performanced Based contracts. T&M had a skill set a name, and a set amount of hours for that CLIN. Within the last 4 years Performance Based contracts have been the norm and it's up to the contracting company to complete the tasking, the number of employee needed isn't a concern of DOD. The finance groups like this type of contracts better because the cost of the taskings can be split into easily budgeted amounts and billed every month. You can't compare Apples and Oranges! Good luck DOD.

Fri, Jan 21, 2011

I fail to see how having a census of contractors contributes to managing the complex emergent system for providing government services. Understanding how different parts of the system grow, evolve, and interact with one another does not come from observing and counting all of the contractors.

Fri, Jan 21, 2011 Anonymous Norfolk, VA

So let me get this straight ... DoD has no idea how many contractors it has or what services they provide according to the GAO? But the SecDef does know he wants to cut contractors out of the DoD budget to save money. Most of us work in either specialty or high tech fields where DoD needs support and doesn't have the skill sets within its own gov't work force. And most of us are retired veterans (remember Desert Storm? many of us do) who are proud to support the troops currently in the field - many our own sons and daughters - taking on the same enemy we faced 20 years ago. While my gov't boss is a great guy and a fine manager, he has a Master's Degree in Humanities. I have a Master's Degree in Engineering applying that knowledge to help our troops. Yet the SecDef thinks my position is expendable. Go figure.

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