Scaling Back on Contractors Is a Tough Job: My View

From the Wall Street Journal — June 21, 2013  Scaling Back on Contractors Is a Tough Job

WASHINGTON—Congressional efforts to curtail use of federal intelligence contractors have gained new traction from continuing leaks of classified information by Edward Snowden. But proposals to significantly scale back the extensive use of outside help face serious obstacles.

Government reliance on military and intelligence contractors is deeply entrenched, and a constrained federal budget makes hiring more government workers a challenge, lawmakers, officials and experts said.

Boy oh boy!!   If I’ve ever seen a misguided effort on the part of the Congress and our Federal Government … this is it! In summary this article is talking about the NSA/Edward Snowden case; who to blame and how to fix it.

As I understand the article, the feds are maneuvering to cast a shadow of blame on private contractors for the Snowden leak, and their solution is to fire more contractors and hire more Civil Servants.

What will this accomplish?

By entrenching more control into the hands of more and more career Civil Servants (CS), and pushing contractors more and more to the outside of this security apparatus, my educated prediction is that it will have a negative effect on national security and will increase government malfeasance  —  Why?

First of all, anyone seeking and holding a Top Secret clearance  must (I hope) be screened against the same criteria, whether  Civil Service or private contractor. There should be no first and second class citizens at this basic level of security clearance, and the suggestion that contractors are less trustworthy than their Civil Service counterparts is profoundly insulting and wrong on its face.

I worked in the world of combined Civil Service/Contractor business relationships for a number of years and gained some insight as to how the game is played:

First of all, CS is the top dog in such a relationship, and this is as it should be … but;

CS provides a career path whereby an employee can reasonably expect lifetime job security and career advancement. Often times this is long term with the same agency and even the same lab or group.

On the other hand, the contracting company is periodically up for re-competition, and often a new company is selected. Fine and dandy so far.

A contract employee is faced with choices the CS employee does not face; If the contractor likes the job, and is settled in the community he is likely to roll over to the new company. If on the other hand the contractor loves the company and has career goals within the company, then she most likely will move out of the affected organization and accept a transfer within the company at another location. Often this happens when the contractor is a senior and experienced employee.  

So when this happens, the organization loses valuable experience, and another set of eyes with perhaps a different point of view, is also lost. A senior contractor may be in a position to act as a buffer between what he sees as questionable activity within the organization and prevent mistakes. Of course this assumes integrity on the part of the contractor.

The mirror image works out a bit differently for a couple of reasons: As I said earlier, the CS is top dog and if CS management sees malfeasance on the part of a contractor or contracting company the dismissal solutions are much more direct and straightforward than dismissal of CS employees. Secondly, the contract company can be expelled at contract renewal.

So this whole process solidifies, and sometimes calcifies the organization with top heavy CS management. This naturally increases the opportunity for misdeeds as we are currently seeing in so many government organizations. Couple this with hyper polarized and agenda driven top management and we have an explosive recipe for corruption.  And note that the scandals we are seeing from this administration emanate primarily from within the government and not the contractors.

For years I’ve wondered why we couldn’t somehow draw a circle around the entirety of such a joint CS/contractor organization; a circle that puts both parties at a comparable level of risk, and thus trust. 

Finally, back to the Snowden case, why was it that one man was able to walk away with the store? Doesn’t NSA have at least two, if not more, sets of eyes looking at the manipulation of items at the system administration level? What about these extra eyes, were they there? Are they under investigation?

Don Johnson – June 2013



One response to “Scaling Back on Contractors Is a Tough Job: My View

  1. NSA leaks raise concerns about reliability of government’s sensitive background check system

    So I guess the press is on against us civilian contractors. We can’t be trusted and the government can … ? So tell me, where do the majority of scandals originate? And where does the majority of corruption reside? In government circles my friends, and they are circling the wagons big time on this NSA scandal. Do you really expect anyone to be punished within the ranks of Civil Service?
    And have you heard, another two deaths traced to the Fast & Furious gun running of guns into the Mexican drug gangs. Yea, no accountability there either.

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