DHS Has More Contractors than Employees
It should come as a surprise to no one familiar with how our government works that the Department of Homeland Security employs more contractors than civil servants. Excepting, of course, Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins.
The Department of Homeland Security has more contractors working for it than full-time employees, a situation two members of Congress said Tuesday was “unacceptable, untenable and unsustainable.”
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and ranking Republican Susan Collins said they were “astounded” to learn there are more than 200,000 contractor employees at the department.
The civilian work force of Homeland Security numbers 188,000, according to an estimate provided to the senators by Homeland Security.
In a letter sent Tuesday to the agency’s Secretary Janet Napolitano, Lieberman and Collins said the figure “raises the question of whether DHS itself is in charge of its programs and policies, or whether it inappropriately has ceded core decisions to contractors.”
The same situation exists at many if not most Defense Department facilities in the National Capitol Region. Going back to, oh, the Carter Administration, decision-makers figured out that contractors bring loads of experience, usually gained from within government, but don’t come with the baggage of unionization, guaranteed pay increases, pension obligations, training requirements, and all the other undesirable baggage of civil service employees.
This isn’t without drawbacks. Despite the preconceptions, most civil servants put in an honest day’s work and often then some. Further, civil service employees have an institutional memory and loyalty that contractors often lack.
At the same time, contractors bring flexibility. They can be hired and fired and moved around an agency without the arcane drama of the OPM process. Additionally, because they’re usually hired on annual contracts, they not only have a powerful incentive to actually do their job — or, indeed, pretty much anything they’re asked to do by the hiring authorities — but they can be let go the minute their particular skills are no longer required.
As to Lieberman and Collins’ core concern, it’s largely unfounded. In my experience, the strategic decision-making is still being made by government employees. But, quite often, they’re at the mercy of the expertise of hired contractors for critical information.
The more legitimate worry is that the tail is wagging the dog. There’s a huge core of people in the DC area whose jobs depend on continual awarding of these massive contracts. Their influence on the policy process, through lobbying efforts and campaign contributions, is potentially quite problematic.