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By Nick Wakeman

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David Hubler

Government poaching? That depends on which side of the pool you're in.

Nothing succeeds like excess, Oscar Wilde once said (or perhaps more than once if only to prove his own adage).

Wilde never had any experience with the intricacies of federal contracting of course, but he would have been amused by the nascent brouhaha over allegations that the feds are out to hire away contractors’ best employees – sometimes with substantial cash bonuses (I didn’t get so much as a Metro fare card when I joined the feds years ago) as reported Aug. 26 in Washington Technology and our sister publication Federal Computer Week.

As expected, the story has unleashed a stream of comments, agreeing with or refuting the claims made by our own Deep Throat and by Anne Reed, president and chief executive officer of Acquisition Solutions, and by Professional Services Council President and CEO Stan Soloway, a regular columnist for Washington Technology, who also will be addressing the issue in a forthcoming column.

Among the first missives we received was a copy of a memo from the appropriately named Defense Department, which the sender must have believed would refute the charges contained in our story. The memo, written in June by Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O’Reilly, director of DOD’s Missile Defense Agency, told all MDA employees that “it is important for MDA personnel to refrain from offering government employment to contractor personnel.”

The memo also noted that it is not only “inappropriate to solicit” contractor employees, but that “[c]urrent federal employment practices do not allow for directly converting a contractor to a government employee.”

The memo begs the question: If there is no problem, why issue such a directive? Surely the head of missile defense has better targets to shoot down than idle rumors of government excesses in its hiring practices.

What is particularly interesting is how many of the comments received are in favor of allowing government agencies to offer jobs to their contract employees. The pros far exceed the cons. (That also is true for the comments sent to Federal Computer Week, whose editor John Monroe is also blogging about this story.)

Typical was this correspondence from William Cox, at the Veterans Affairs Department in Austin, Texas. He wrote: “As if private industry never poached Government employees trained at taxpayer expense! It’s a challenging world for IT professionals, and right now the well-trained professional has the upper hand - it is a seller’s market.”

Will Riegger said he has no sympathy for the contractors. “During my 25 some odd years tenure with the Feds, I’ve seen so many government workers lured away by contractors with salaries the Feds could never match. If the contractors didn’t find it unethical when they were doing it, how is it unethical when the Feds play their game now?”

That notion was echoed by “the Observer,” who simply wrote: “This works and has worked both ways. There is actually no problem.”

Like Observer’s comment, many of the e-mail messages we’ve received were sent anonymously. For example: Such recruiting is “[r]outine practice around here. Not so much at the wears-a-tie-every-day level, but among the actual worker bee techs, many are ex-contractor, and several have spun the revolving door more than once. Every time it happen[s], going either direction, they are said to have ‘gone over to the dark side.’”

Contractors do not own their employees, another anonymous comment noted. “They can be dismissed at any time with or without cause or notice and often do not receive severance pay.”

The writer added that although companies expect devotion and loyalty, they often reward employees with a surprise order to pack up and go. “So if you’re offered a government job why not take it?”

David (no last name), however, is definitely in favor of government hiring. “After 15 years of performing as a contractor it’s refreshing to be able to get recruited from the governments just like I’ve been pursued by private firms,” he wrote, and thinks the practice will be a win for government and workers.

But David has little sympathy for the contractors. “You’ve had the advantage for years and the execs have had their golden parachutes. Now workers can have sick days and don’t have to worry about contracts going away.”

One thing is certain, though. Controversy about job offers and recruiting techniques is an indication that the federal contracting market remains healthy and vibrant. Not a bad place to be as the nation’s unemployment rate inches toward 10 percent. 

Posted by David Hubler on Aug 27, 2009 at 9:53 AM

Reader Comments

Fri, Sep 11, 2009 femtobeam

Whether contractor or Gov employee, the article and the comments assume that all people are paid. They are not aware of the enslavement of scientists and others via means and methods, many of them perpetrated by subcontractors to the BMDA. Without a way to correctly identify people to prevent hearsay and criminal activity by subcontractors, (stealing information from entrepreneurs), there is no way to establish ownership and legal rights. This is the basis of a subcontract. Gov oversight of subcontractors should begin with hiring those who know the truth, like former employees who did not follow the orders of the corrupt legal teams of companies. There is a network of slaves who have no rights at all and it is the contractors, not the Gov who are doing that.

Fri, Aug 28, 2009

I have no problem in theory other than it is industry practice that a company (or Agency) that hires outside consultants are excluded contactually from hiring consultant personnel. Otherwise - have at it. One other point - the government has the upper hand and can unilaterally dismiss consultant employees.

Fri, Aug 28, 2009

Enjoy it while you can. When the government goes bankrupt thousands of government jobs will be up on the chopping block, and they will learn it is last-in, first-out.

Fri, Aug 28, 2009

Enjoy it while you can. When the government goes bankrupt thousands of government jobs will be up on the chopping block, and they will learn it is last-in, first-out.

Fri, Aug 28, 2009 Peter G. Tuttle, CPCM

Government & industry poaching from each other - what a concept. So what's new? Both have always drawn from the same talent pool, however, now the pool of qualified candidates is smaller than it used to be in the 1980's and 1990's. It's tough to find professionals these days who are actually skilled and experienced in the federal acquisition process. Bill Cox from VA is right - it's a seller's market!!

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